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The African Union has prohibited the trading of donkey hides due to the excessive and unsustainable demand from China.
The African Union has prohibited the trading of donkey hides due to the excessive and unsustainable demand from China.

The African Union has prohibited the trading of donkey hides due to the excessive and unsustainable demand from China.

as “a major milestone in protecting the welfare and livelihoods of donkey-dependent communities”.

During a recent meeting in Ethiopia, the African Union (AU) made the decision to implement a 15-year ban across the entire continent on the killing of donkeys for their hides. In China, there has been a significant increase in demand for ejiao, a key ingredient in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) made from donkey hides, leading to a drastic decline in donkey populations in Africa. The Donkey Sanctuary, a major equine charity organization, expressed their joy over the decision and emphasized its importance in safeguarding the well-being and livelihoods of communities that depend on donkeys.

The African Union has made a significant decision to acknowledge the crucial role of donkeys in Africa at the highest level of decision-making. During the 37th African Union Summit in Ethiopia on Sunday, February 18th, the African Heads of State agreed to a groundbreaking moratorium. This agreement will not only protect the 33 million donkeys in Africa from theft, trafficking, and slaughter, but also safeguard the well-being and livelihoods of thousands of communities that rely on donkeys. The decision was made following the release of new data from The Donkey Sanctuary, which reveals that approximately 5.9 million donkeys are killed each year worldwide for their skins to meet the demand for ejiao, a traditional Chinese remedy. As this demand continues to increase, African donkeys face a serious threat to their existence. [Source]

China’s rising interest in ejiao is driven by attempts to promote the traditional medicinal ingredient to a wider audience and incorporate it into more products. This has resulted in the annual slaughter of over five million donkeys, with only two million coming from China and the remaining being imported from other countries. In an article for The New York Times, Elian Peltier, Keith Bradsher, and Siyi Zhao discuss China’s involvement in the donkey trade and its detrimental effect on diplomatic relationships.

Many African countries have China as their primary trading partner. However, there has been growing criticism towards Chinese companies for exploiting Africa’s natural resources, including minerals, fish, and now donkey skins. This is a shift from previous criticism, which was mostly directed at Western countries. According to Lauren Johnston, an expert on China-Africa relations, this trade is hindering the development talks between China and African nations. While some Chinese companies and local intermediaries legally purchase and slaughter donkeys, there have also been reports of clandestine slaughterhouses being dismantled by government officials. Despite measures to restrict the export of goods into China, such as the recent limitations on semiconductor manufacturing equipment, Beijing has remained quiet about the African Union’s ban on donkey hide exports.

Donkeys in rural Africa have multiple benefits, as they not only help reduce poverty but also empower women and girls by allowing them to attend school instead of staying at home to assist with household chores. Academic Lauren Johnston from the Universities of Adelaide and Sydney has extensively studied these issues. In her recent paper, “China, Africa, and the Market for Donkeys: Examining the Impact of Ejiao Production in Africa,” Johnston examines the growth of the ejiao industry and the resulting socioeconomic complexities in the trade between China and Africa. In a report published last year, titled “China, Africa, and the Market for Donkeys: Examining the Consequences for China’s Rural, Poor, and Sick Citizens,” Johnston also discusses the effects of the donkey trade on China’s own vulnerable populations.

The modern donkey trade is causing a shift in the distribution of welfare gains and losses not only in Africa, but also in China. In addition to elderly farmers in China facing difficulties in accessing donkeys due to harsh environmental conditions, it was reported in 2017 by USA Today that Ma Yufa, a Chinese farmer who grows vegetables on steep mountain terraces, also experienced a loss when his donkey died in 2014. He expressed his concern about the decreasing number of donkeys in China and how they were heavily relied upon by his family in the past. This trend is not limited to agricultural communities, as even Chinese consumers are being impacted by the boom in ejiao, a traditional Chinese medicine made from donkey hide. As the prices of ejiao rise, fewer patients are able to afford the genuine product and are instead turning to less effective wellness candies. While ejiao is considered one of the three great treasures of traditional Chinese medicine, its increasing popularity as a status symbol is causing harm to those who truly need it.

Peter J. Li, in an opinion piece for the South China Morning Post, stated that the donkey trade damages China’s image in Africa and suggested that the Chinese government take action to address the excessive demand in China.

It is in China’s national interest to join the African Union in stopping donkey skin imports. The cruelty of the trade is such that no “panda diplomacy” can mend the damage it has caused to China’s reputation. It does not project the “lovable” image that the Chinese leadership would like to cultivate. The donkey skin trade could overshadow or diminish the significance of China’s debt relief efforts in favour of some African countries, instead creating or reinforcing the image of Chinese businesses which, while capitalising on their country’s massive business presence on the continent, cannot care less about the livelihoods of the poor in their efforts to grab African resources to create demand for high-end products. Ejiao, like other “cure-all” remedies made from wild animal parts or bodily fluid, is a supply-driven product. Produced to meet “demand” that never existed in China on today’s scale, ejiao is a textbook example of how demand can be artificially inflated by the business interests concerned. [Source]

Despite motivations to decrease ejiao consumption, there are indications that Chinese businesses and consumers are opting for alternative sources to fulfill their high demand. According to Yicai, a media outlet associated with the Chinese government, Dong-E-E-Jiao, a major TCM company, claims that the AU’s ban will not affect them. They also mentioned that provinces in Pakistan, namely Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, have established donkey farms specifically for exporting to China. However, as Cobus van Staden noted in a China-Global South Project column, the AU’s ban is a remarkable display of African determination in the face of Chinese demand for valuable resources. This approach could potentially be replicated in other regions of the Global South.

The ejiao industry relies on a limited resource. It is depleting donkey populations at an unsustainable rate and negatively impacting rural economies. The African Union’s decision to ban the trade is a significant step in addressing this issue. It also demonstrates the agency of African nations against the short-sighted mindset of prioritizing immediate profits from international buyers over sustainable economic growth. This mindset has led to Africa exporting large quantities of unrefined critical mineral ore with minimal benefit to the continent. The response of member states to the ban remains to be seen, as it will test the African Union’s ability to enforce its decisions. However, the ban has already influenced other countries such as Brazil, the second-largest supplier of donkey skins to China, to consider implementing a similar ban. [Source]