The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government is planning to export donkeys in the province to attract annual investment of up to Rs 4.7 million. The plan, however, has triggered alarm among those who use the beast of burden as their primary source of income owing to fears that it will drive up the already high prices of the animal even further.

The K-P Livestock Department will soon sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with two Chinese companies to allow the export of around 80,000 donkeys to China every year.

The MoU will see the two companies set up donkey breeding farms in Dera Ismail Khan and Mansehra, and work on raising awareness regarding donkey illnesses among farmers, Livestock Department economist Dr Asal Khan added.

Leave him alone and in peace

There is a huge market for donkeys in China as their hides and other byproducts are used both by industries and in traditional medicines and cosmetics. Pakistan, with close to five million donkeys, is home to the third largest population of the animal, the provincial government is looking to use Chinese interest to monetise this resource. Beyond attracting investment, the breeding farms and awareness drives planned under terms of the MoU will also benefit the 65,000 to 70,000 people who use donkeys as their primary source of income; nobody is however thinking of the donkeys.

The KP government had originally hoped to sign the MoU earlier after generating interest in donkey projects at an economic cooperation roadshow held in China in April 2017.

However, strict government rules and regulation delayed progress on MoU. The KP Livestock Department has now finished all homework on the MoU and will sign it with the Chinese companies soon.

KP Livestock Research and Development Program Director Dr Muhammad Iqbal Khattak welcomed the K-P government’s steps to invest in the breeding and export of donkeys, saying it would help boost both the province and country’s economy.

Not everyone, however, received plans to export donkeys that well. Donkey cart owner Zahid rejected the move, fearing it would further inflate donkey prices making his and other donkey owners’ lives harder. “Already, a donkey costs between Rs 35,000 to Rs 50,000 in the market. I earn around Rs 1,000 from my cart a day, which I use to feed my family. You can imagine how hard it is for poor people like myself to purchase one,” he complained. “Now the government wants to take this source of income from us. If they go ahead with their plans, the day that donkeys will be rare in Pakistan will arrive soon.”

According to the 2006 Livestock census, work generated by each of the 4.75 million equines in Pakistan support at least six people in the country.

Over four million donkeys are slaughtered in China every year to produce byproducts used particularly by the country’s traditional medicine industry. Donkey hides, in particular, are used to obtain a gelatin known locally as ‘ejiao’ which is an important ingredient in many Chinese traditional medicines.

Recently, in Pakistan, it emerged that the meat of several donkeys slaughtered to smuggle hides to China was later sold to restaurants in Lahore, Karachi and other major cities. The revelation caused much uproar across the country and led to several police raids which uncovered the slaughter of thousands of animals as part of this racket.

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