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Hot Dispute on Donkey’s Future

A public hearing last Tuesday by the House of Representatives Committee on Agricultural Services on the Killing of Donkey Prohibition Bill resulted in sharp disagreement between different stakeholders. The bill, introduced earlier this year by Representative Garba Datti Muhammad of Kaduna State, seeks to ban the killing and export of donkeys because the iconic animal, the top beast of burden in rural areas of Northern Nigeria, is in serious decline in Nigeria.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Garba Mohammed said donkeys are an important means of transportation in rural Northern Nigeria and serve as ambulance in some cases. He said countries such as Botswana, Senegal, Mali, Gambia, Burkina Faso, Ethopia and Zimbabwe have prohibited the export of donkeys. As a result of the global demand, he said the price of donkey has risen from N15,000 to N130,000 which is responsible for the increasing theft of the animal in the North. The bill’s clauses one and two prohibit exportation of donkeys and its clause four proposes 10 years’ imprisonment for defaulters.

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Dr. Olaniran Alabi, Director of Veterinary and Pest Control in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development said the ministry is in support of the bill. He said the decline in the population of donkeys in the country is of serious concern to the ministry. He said donkeys have a gestation period of one year and that unlike pigs, they reproduce only once in a year. If nothing is urgently done, Nigeria would lose all its donkeys and it would be difficult to replace them, Alabi said.

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At the hearing however, a research fellow from the National Animal Production Research Institute [NAPRI] at Shika, near Zaria, Haruna Ibrahim, disagreed with the bill’s aim to ban the slaughter and export of donkey meat and products. Saying the donkey value chain is a means of employment and income generation for many Nigerians, he said legislation to ban killing and export of donkeys would compound unemployment in the country.

Ibrahim added,

“We rather call for the upscaling of donkey production in the areas favourable to the production and growth of the animal. The reason for the decline in population is as a result of demand for skin and consumption of the meat but that does not mean we should forget about the many people whose livelihood depend on donkey.” He called for more attention to be given to breeding and multiplication of donkeys by development agencies.  China, he said, needs four million donkey skins annually to meet its industrial demand. He said breeding, nutrition, health and management of donkeys are essential areas of intervention to boost its population.

The Donkey Skin Processors, Marketers and Exporters Association of Nigeria [DSPMEAN] strongly agreed with NAPRI. Its Deputy Chairman Vitalis Ike said the bill would be detrimental to the donkey value chain and that the animal’s breeding should be stepped up instead. He said global demand for donkey skin is an opportunity for Nigeria to increase production and generate foreign exchange. He said 10,000 persons are fully involved in the donkey value chain.

Rather than outlawing consumption and export of donkeys, Ike said its production should be extensively encouraged. He said 500 million dollars could be generated in the first five years if the country invests properly in donkey production. Ike also said heavy consumption of cow meat in the country has not made the cow an endangered species as proper attention is being given to its breeding.

Ike made an important point there. While we agree with the bill’s sponsor that all efforts must be made to preserve the local donkey because of its importance in the rural areas, we also agree with NAPRI and DSPMEAN that the donkey meat and export needs can be met without endangering the local population. The two needs can be married together. However, the law should impose strict rules because donkey marketers are likely to go for the easiest route, visit local markets and buy up all the donkeys rather than engage in the long and tedious task of donkey breeding. In short, all donkeys marked for consumption and export must come from commercial breeding farms. We will then kill two birds with one stone.

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