Donkey farmers in the East African region want Kenya to ban trade in donkey hides following increased poaching that now threatens to decimate their population in the region, as they are slaughtered to meet rising demand for a traditional Chinese medicine.

There are four slaughter houses in Kenya with a combined average of 1 000 donkeys a day, with estimates by the Kenya Agricultural and Research Organisation (KALRO) indicating that, in the last three years, over 350 000 donkeys have been slaughtered in the country.

Mahamud Omar weeps uncontrollably as he narrates how donkey thefts have impoverished farmers in Kenya. His is not an isolated story, at a two-day conference held in Nairobi this week, farmers drawn from far as Ethiopia told of how donkey theft and cross-border smuggling has dented their sole source of livelihoods.

Tanzanian farmer Grace Saruni says donkey theft has led to farmers sometimes not having donkeys to plough the land.

“Since 2016, 2017 and 2018 until now, because of the rampant donkey theft; we sometimes do not have donkeys to plough your land. We’d also use them to travel long distances to the river to fetch water; now you have to put the bucket over your head and travel that same distance.”

Estimates indicate that 4.8 million donkey hides are needed to satisfy demand to produce a gelatine-based traditional medicine called Ejiao, which the Chinese believe has anti-ageing and libido enhancing properties. With the numbers in China having fallen 76% since 1992, the country has turned to global imports to fill the gap.

Brooke EA Regional Director, Fred Ochieng, says donkeys are slaughtered at five times the rate of production.

“We are slaughtering the donkeys at the rate of five times the rate of production and that means that is not sustainable. We cannot continue to slaughter them; we will not have any donkeys. Research actually shows that by 2023, we actually may not have a single donkey if it continues.”

At least 18 countries now have laws banning trade in donkey hides, but just like in the East African region, cross border donkey smuggling is rife.

The meeting called for a total ban of donkey slaughter in Kenya, where the government has licenced four donkey abattoirs, that and the rampant theft has driven up costs in Kenya from about 60 USD in 2016 to $200 in 2019. Worldwide, a decrease in the number of donkeys would have a huge impact on 500 million people in some of the world’s poorest communities.