Donkeys have been sorely underrated as significant contributors to the process of development. There are currently a good number of donkeys everywhere across the world, with half in Asia, about a quarter in Africa. Within these countries, donkeys are most often used for transport and agriculture, yet their social and economic benefits frequently go without recognition.
Donkeys remain a central part of life in many rural areas throughout Africa, supporting people’s participation in sectors ranging from agriculture and transport, to tourism and construction.
The donkey is a multi-purpose animal, able to carry out a wide variety of tasks under very limited circumstances. Donkeys are fast learners, surprisingly strong (they can carry loads about half their body weight), resistant to many diseases, have a long working life, require little water, and are easy to manage. Most importantly to many animal owners in developing countries, donkeys are much cheaper to purchase than oxen, horses and other animals used for working purposes. Further, they are able to withstand heat and dry conditions, but have difficulty with cold and wet climates, making clear their importance in developing nations like Kenya.
While traditional agricultural practices in many countries have changed considerably as a result of modernization and globalization, donkeys still play a central role improving the livelihoods of many small-scale farmers. Their roles differ from country to country and farm to farm, but in general, donkeys help increase farmers’ productive potential and positively contribute to their well-being.
In addition, recently more women have access to ownership of donkeys, which they use to fulfill household needs that are otherwise very difficult to accomplish. Since women are able to contribute more to the family unit, they are experiencing increasing status within traditional family structures.
Yet despite the donkey’s vital economic importance to people, the prospect of immediate income, and the threat of theft, have many households considering their sale. A few years ago, donkeys roamed freely across the country, nibbling at grass, awaiting their next call of menial duty. Now, they’re being driven to abattoirs in droves. Animal rights activists in Kenya say that over the last year 100,000 donkeys were slaughtered at abattoirs given the high demand by China. Many are being stolen, and some killed illegally by poachers and passed off as beef in a local market, where eating donkey meat is considered taboo. Numbers are just coming in, as this is a new problem to us in Kenya, since the Chinese got permission to open the donkey butcheries.
This devaluation of donkeys by the process of modernization has sorely limited the donkey’s potential, all in the name of keeping up to date in a globalized world. Will the day of the donkey ever come?