A Deputy Minister of Food and Agriculture, Dr. Sagri Bambangi, has tacitly endorsed the killing of donkeys for commercial purposes in Ghana although there’s an existing ban by his Ministry on donkey trade.
Dr. Sagri Bambangi, who is also the MP for Walewale Constituency, said in an interview with Citi Business News that donkeys have outlived their usefulness with the introduction of tricycles in the country, which does the perfect job of the donkey cart.
The MP compared the donkeys to inventions that have phased out due to technological advancements, and said he does not support any ban on the killing of donkeys for commercial purposes.
“They are becoming less significant because of the era of the motor tricycles. The motor tricycles have effectively substituted the donkey carts and they happened to be better substitutes even though they take fuel, it is better to work with a motor tricycle than a donkey cart which is much drudgery.”
“I bought my own donkey cart 25 years ago and one of my cousins was using it. It was a very strategic and important means of transport for carting farm produce and carting firewood and quite lucrative, and anytime there was water shortage, they were even used for carting water.”
Ghana’s Ministry of Food and Agriculture already has in place a ban on donkey trade, but the trade is still ongoing in some regions due to lack of enforcement.
In mid-2016 the donkey skin trade was firmly rooted in West Africa, and Ghana had emerged as the regional slaughterhouse. At the time, the West Africa Heads of Veterinary Services decided to ban with immediate effect, the indiscriminate slaughter of donkeys and the export of their skins, a directive which has never been enforced.
High demand for donkey hide
Demand for donkey hide, which is boiled to produce gelatine – the key ingredient in a medicine called ejiao in China – has raised the price and the rate of slaughter of the animals, threatening the livelihoods of poor communities who rely on them.
The emergence of the global trade in donkey hide is attributed to the rise of China’s middle class and increased perception of the medicine’s efficacy. Ejiao can sell for up to £300 per kilo. The medicines created from the hide serve as blood tonic, aphrodisiacs and anti-ageing creams.
The consumption of donkey meat is also a popular tradition in some parts of China, where it is highly expensive. Some groups in Africa eat donkey meat, considered an inexpensive and accessible source of animal protein, but only from the slaughter of donkeys too old or incapacitated to work. In some communities too, its consumption is considered taboo.
The demand is now outstripping supply. According to the animal-protection organization, PETA, 1.8 million donkeys are killed per year in China alone, while global demand is estimated between 4 to 10 million skins. This has raised the price of donkeys in some countries, making them unaffordable for many people who use them to convey goods to market, cultivate land, and fetch water.
In Ghana, the Chinese initially set up several factories across the country, with one in the North East Region, to process donkey hides and meat for export, but many of those including Blue Coast, a known slaughter house at Walewale, has been closed down by the Assembly after several reported cases of donkey theft.
Now the slaughter of donkeys is carried out by the locals largely in the Upper East Region. They sell the hides to Chinese dealers through middle men, whiles the meat is smoked and sold in larger markets in Techiman, Kumasi and Accra.
Dr. Sagri Bambangi, the Deputy Agric Minister, also referred to donkeys as stubborn animals that have outlived their relevance in modern day.
Nantogmah Abdullai, a donkey cart operator at Nalerigu in North East Region, whose donkey has served him for nine consecutive years, thinks the position of the Deputy Minister of Agriculture on donkeys is insensitive and would affect many rural people.
“Truth be told, donkeys are important to us. I have been working with this donkey for 9 nine years. It does all the farm work and business for us. It sustains the house for us.”
But the MP rather views the donkeys as cash cows, especially with the new Chinese thirst for donkey hides in Ghana.
“We are living in a liberal economy, and I am telling you that a lot of private sector actors are motivated by economic signals”, he said, despite his admission that donkeys had been useful to him personally in the past.
His position perhaps explains why there is wanton killing of donkeys for commercial purposes despite the call by the West Africa Heads of Veterinary Services to enforce the ban on donkey trade.
Statistics on donkey export
While statistics on donkey export from Ghana are not available, about 80,000 donkeys were exported in 2016 in Nigeria. Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Senegal, Mali, Niger and Pakistan, have all banned the export of donkeys.
According to the Ghana Society for the Protection and Care of Animals, as at the last donkey census carried out in 2015, Ghanaians owned some 14,500 donkeys. It however says the number has declined sharply due to the slaughter of the animals. The Society is deeply concerned that donkeys are on the way to getting extinct in Ghana.
It also says donkey welfare is at stake if the law is not enforced, as Ghana’s poorest citizens who rely on donkeys for farming activities and the transportation of goods, especially in rural areas, are going to be affected in a catastrophic way.
For Nantogmah Abdullai, the donkey cart operator, the MP’s comment doesn’t reflect the reality on the ground.
He wants the state to protect donkeys.
“He [The Deputy Agric Minister] hasn’t spoken the truth. If the donkeys are not useful to him, they are still useful to us. Sometime ago, thieves were stealing our donkeys just for the skin. It was common in this town.”