In the lives of Africans, donkeys play an important role. In Ethiopia, there’s a saying that goes, “if you don’t have a donkey, then you are a donkey.” This highlights the significance of these animals in African society and the impact they have on people’s livelihoods.
Despite their immense social and economic value, Africa’s donkeys are currently facing the threat of theft. The thieve is none other than China, and it is imperative that Africa takes action to address this issue.
China: rising demand for Africa’s donkeys
In recent years, demand of China for African donkeys has been rapidly increasing and this is due to the use of donkey hides in the production of a traditional Chinese medicinal product called Ejiao. This product is made by extracting collagen from the hides and combining it with herbs and other ingredients.
According to a report, the Chinese market for Ejiao has increased from about US$3.2 billion in 2013 to about US$7.8 billion in 2020. The rising demand for Ejiao in China has caused a shortage of donkeys in China, particularly impacting Africa, which is home to the largest population of donkeys in the world.
China requires approximately 5 million donkeys per year to satisfy its Ejiao demand. Approximately, 2 million of these donkeys are sourced from China’s own donkey population , while the remaining 3 million or more are imported from abroad. These numbers demonstrate that China cannot meet its demand domestically and is restoring to illegal means to fulfill its needs.
It is often difficult to monitor the illegal trade of donkeys in Africa. Reports indicate that as South African authorities crack down on illegal trade, donkeys from South Africa are now being smuggled into Lesotho. This shift in the illegal trade makes it even more challenging to track and control.
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Africa must act to control illegal trade
Rural communities throughout Africa rely on donkeys as a beast of burden. Donkeys provide income for some of the most marginalized households. The trade in donkey skins can adversely impact millions of Africans. To address this issue, countries like Tanzania, Kenya, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Senegal have banned the exports of donkeys to China.
Despite these measures, the desired outcome has not been achieved given the varying levels of regulatory capacity in each country and the ease of smuggling across borders. As donkeys play such a crucial socio-economic role in Africa, the continent cannot be beholden to Chinese demand for them. As African countries work together to address other regional issues, it is also important for them to address the issue of illegal donkey skin trade and form associations to establish meaningful dialogue with China to resolve this issue which affects millions in Africa.
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