During last week’s World Water Day, numerous international and NGOs drew attention to the fact that every day, women and girls spend 200 hours walking to collect water for their families.
However, other many households in developing countries - the luckier ones - use donkeys, horses or mules to fetch this precious commodity. So much so, that these animals are recognised by the UN Committee of Food Security, as critical to the livelihoods and resilience of millions of families.
Sadly, these beasts of burden, are in critical danger. In the last years, there has been a sharp increase in the trade of donkey-hide gelatin, particularly nourished by the traditional belief in its medicinal properties in Asia. Ejiao, as the donkey-hide is called in Traditional Chinese Medicine, is considered to improve blood circulation and is also used to treat reproductive problems.
The use of ejiao is currently so high that the price of these animals has tripled as the market struggles to supply the growing demand. As prices are driven upwards, black-market activities are also increasing, supplied by illegal activities of rustling and illegal slaughter.
Numerous countries have been affected by this increment in the trade in donkey meat and skins, but Kenya, has been particularly hit. Since April 2006, three slaughter houses have been licensed in the country, slaughtering 400 donkeys a day, fuelling theft throughout the country.
Brooke, an international animal welfare charity dedicated to protect and improve the lives of working donkeys, mules and horses, currently works with numerous communities throughout Kenya to try and halt the decline of this working livestock, since the seizure of donkeys from communities that depend on them is pushing many families into poverty.
Photo by Freya Dowson(Brooke)
Talking to the women of Olimtie, a village near the town of Narok, west of Nairobi, manifests just how serious this issue has become. According to Brooke, many women whose donkeys are stolen become extremely depressed and worry about their family’s well-being. Margaret, who lives in Olimtie, says: “If my donkeys get stolen, I’m the one affected because I will have to go to the river myself to fetch water with a Jeri can. Water is important to human beings and the donkeys help us to get that water. If I lose a donkey, I suffer a lot because one Jeri can of water is not enough for me. In the house you need 100 litres of water so that you’re able to complete your house work.”
Farming Systems Kenya, Brooke East Africa’s partner, is helping these women set up donkey welfare groups. Margaret is in one of these welfare groups. If one of the women in Margaret’s group loses one of these animals, the other members make sure she is able to get water: “There are others who have lost their donkeys, so at times like these we chip in to help. A donkey carries four Jeri cans so I will give that person one Jeri can of water. We help each other like that.”
Supported by Farming Systems Kenya, these associations have been running a finance system and using some of the money to put up fences for their equids, to stop them wandering off and to prevent thefts. “You see if my neighbour joins the group, they too will look after my donkeys and I theirs and so on, so cases of theft will reduce in this area because of the unity in the group.”
In many countries in Africa, the donkey populations have nearly halved in the past few years, as is the case of Burkina Faso. Across the continent, nine countries have banned this trade, including Botswana, Mali, Niger and Senegal.
As Brooke points out, despite their critical value, these animals are often overlooked in national and regional livestock planning and policy framing. Regulators must recognise their contribution to millions of people to better support their own national economies.
“I would love to tell all the women, since we do not have cows, the donkeys are ours. Let us protect our donkeys because they are the source of our daily lives,” states Margaret.