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Σάββατο, 13 Ιουλίου, 2024

African Donkeys And Chinese Scientific Value

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The Black Continent’s Beast Of Burden Pay A Heavy Price To Meet The Chinese Demand For Traditional Medicines Of Dubious Scientific Value

By Vaishali Basu Sharma 

Worth Noting:

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  • During the Tang dynasty, donkey hides became a key ingredient of the Chinese medical treatment known as ejiao. It was made by extracting collagen from donkey hides and mixing it with herbs, mineral-rich water, and other ingredients to create gelatine pastes, tablets, and pulp.
  • These days, ejiao is sold as both stand-alone medicine and is also infused in liquids and gels and added to snacks.
  • Now it seems the bosses of the Chinese Communist Party are not only trying to restore the old glory of the lost empire of the Tang dynasty in China by annexing territories in neighbouring countries but also are trying to emulate the extravagant lifestyles of the Chinese emperors of yesteryears.

The poor donkeys of Africa are paying a heavy price to meet the insatiable demand among the rich and the mighty in China for traditional medicines of dubious scientific value. From mandarins of the Chinese Communist Party to big businessmen, they are consuming ejiao in great quantities as a cure for all kinds of ailments, from anaemia and insomnia to infertility and dry cough.

Unfortunately for the donkeys, the traditional Chinese medicine of ejiao is made from an extract from donkey skin. Africa is home to 33 million donkeys, about two-thirds of the total donkey population of about 53 million.

It has now become an obligation of African countries to slaughter their donkeys and send the skins of these animals to China, though this is taking a heavy toll on the poor people on the African continent, for whom donkeys are an important livestock catering to daily needs.

African countries have little option but to succumb to China’s arm-twisting, as many of them are neck-deep in Chinese debt incurred because of Belt and Road Initiative loans. Even then, countries of the African Union have now taken a bold decision to deny China its insatiable need for donkey skin by banning the export of donkey skin.

In China, Ejiao was once known as a “medicine for emperors.”

During the Tang dynasty, donkey hides became a key ingredient of the Chinese medical treatment known as ejiao. It was made by extracting collagen from donkey hides and mixing it with herbs, mineral-rich water, and other ingredients to create gelatine pastes, tablets, and pulp.

These days, ejiao is sold as both stand-alone medicine and is also infused in liquids and gels and added to snacks.

Now it seems the bosses of the Chinese Communist Party are not only trying to restore the old glory of the lost empire of the Tang dynasty in China by annexing territories in neighbouring countries but also are trying to emulate the extravagant lifestyles of the Chinese emperors of yesteryears.

The use of ejiao has increased exponentially since the late 20th century. With increased prosperity for the mandarins of China and with the modernization of production techniques, ejiao is now used in China as an elixir of feminine vitality and to treat all kinds of ailments without any thought if these beliefs have any scientific basis. There is limited scientific evidence to support these health claims.

The size of the ejiao industry is enormous. In 2023, it was estimated to have garnered revenue of $8 billion (about KSh1 Trillion).

Between 2013 and 2016, the annual production of ejiao was estimated to have increased from 3,200 tonnes to 5,600 tonnes, an annual growth rate of 20 per cent.

Between 2016 and 2021, the production of ejiao increased by 160 per cent. If the current trend in production is allowed to continue, production will increase by 200 per cent by 2027.

By 2021, the ejiao industry in China needed five million hides per year, but domestic sources could provide only about one-third of the requirement.

China is sourcing donkey hides from other countries, too, but imports from African countries meet over half of the requirement.

For the poor donkeys of the world, the consequence has been disastrous.

In China, the donkey population has declined dramatically since the 1990s. While there were eight million donkeys in China in 2004, by 2021, the figure came down to two million.

In Kenya, the donkey population declined by 800,000 in the seven-year period from 2016 to 2023, according to a report of the Association of Donkey Owners of Kenya, as quoted in Down to Earth.

In 2016, Kenya had 1.8 million donkeys, with the donkey population in the African country reducing to one million in 2023, a decline of about 45 per cent in seven years.

In Ethiopia, home to the maximum number of donkeys in the world at 11 million, people in small towns and rural areas express dismay at the way donkeys are slaughtered for their skins.

African countries like Botswana, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Tanzania and Uganda had already banned the export of donkey skin and closed the Chinese-owned slaughterhouses.

However, trade continued in some of the African nations.

In the African Union Summit in Ethiopia earlier this year, the Heads of States of African countries agreed to ban the trade in donkey skin.

The continent of Africa has pushed back against China, the largest trade partner of the African nations and the major financier of these countries.

The decision of the African Union has ended a rapidly growing business between China and Africa.

The killing of donkeys for their hide is now illegal across the continent of Africa.

The 55 member nations of the African Union have taken this decision as the wanton killing of donkeys to feed the profitable ejiao business in China had been affecting rural development in Africa, trampling the rights of African women and nullifying the poverty alleviation schemes taken up by the African nations.

The African nations want to conserve their donkeys instead of sending them to slaughterhouses to meet the demand for donkey skin in China because the contribution of these animals to subsistence farming and the basic economy is enormous.

The donkey is the workhorse that powers the subsistence-based agriculture that supports the population of these nations.

In Ethiopia, a donkey costs at least half the annual family income in rural areas and is considered the most important possession that a family can own.

Healthy donkeys mean healthier children to the families who incorporate these animals in the cultivation of their land.

The donkeys owned by a rural family are most often taken care of by the women.

But for the donkeys, the women would have become the beasts of burden. In poorer countries, say experts, donkeys are a part of the rural economic structure.

Unlike chickens or pigs, donkeys cannot be bred quickly. The gestation period for breeding donkeys is quite long.

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