The gazette of donkey meat as food by the Government of Kenya in the year 1999, with the aim of curbing bush slaughter and improving food safety, was followed by the licensing and establishment of donkey slaughter houses in the country. Four export slaughter houses were licensed in Baringo, Nakuru, Turkana and Machakos counties.
Since their establishment, the donkey populations have been diminishing due to the high demand for donkey skins for export in Chinese markets, for making of a traditional medicine called ejiao. This has further triggered donkey theft and slaughter in pastoralist communities, bringing about devastating effects on they who depend on donkeys for livelihoods.
According to a research that was conducted by the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization(KALRO), in the year 2019, so far, 301,977 donkeys were slaughtered in three years (2016-2018) by the four slaughter houses. Of those slaughtered, 38% were female and 10% were pregnant. This not only worsens the situation in terms of the donkeys not being able to reproduce but also poses the risk of donkey extinction.
On September, 6, 2020, the Association of Donkey Owners in Kenya (ADOK) in partnership with Alliance for Donkey Welfare Organizations in Kenya (ADWOK) came together to urge the Government to maintain the ban on commercial slaughter of donkeys, as the donkey owners gave their voices on the impact that the ban will have on their lives and that of their animals.
Speaking at the press conference, the donkey owners led by their chairperson mentioned that the slaughter has left some of them with nothing to sustain their livelihoods, hence the ban will protect their donkeys, prevent their extinction and ensure sustenance of livelihoods.
One Lucy Erika from Turkana county thanked the government for ordering a closure of donkey abattoirs. “Donkeys are very important to us as the pastoral communities. They help us in transportation of goods not only within the county but also across the Sudan, Ethiopia and Pokot borders especially due to the poor state of roads in the county. Donkey thefts though have been posing great risks to our lives as pastoralists and as we all know, no proper breeding procedures have been found to be effective in Kenya and other developed countries like China. We hence ask the government to maintain the ban on donkey slaughter and ensure the slaughter houses remain shut.”
It is not only pastoralists that rely on donkeys for livelihood. Silas Gitonga from Kirinyaga county in the central region of the country has been keeping donkeys for the past ten years. “Donkeys are very useful to me and my family as that is the main means of transport that I know, having been residing in the interior part of Mwea constituency where roads are inaccessible as the area is still under development. We use donkeys for transport of farm produce such as rice from the farm to the factory for processing because they are economical as compared to other means of transport. We hence urge the government to continue protecting our donkeys,” says Silas Gitonga. Other non-pastoralist donkey keepers that were represented include but not limited to Nairobi, Kiambu, Nakuru, Nyandarua, Bungoma, Narok, Kitui and Homabay Counties.
Having recognized that donkey theft and slaughter is one of the biggest challenges that face the pastoralist communities, APaD has been at the fore front in protection of these animals that serve as the main source of livelihood for these communities. Some of the members of the community that APaD works with were present during the press conference and they cannot help but thank the APaD and partners for the astounding work they continue to execute in the community.
“As donkey owners, our donkeys face a variety of problems. From diseases, hunger, deaths, and the most common which is donkey theft and slaughter. If it were not for APaD coming through to supply drugs and hay, rehabilitate boreholes, set up water troughs for our donkeys and help recover the stolen ones from neighboring communities, our livelihoods would be in danger.” says Lucy Erika.
Lucy who also serves as a community and women leader continues to say that APaD has been a great support to the communities in the Karamoja cluster in many ways such as supply of food to the communities during the dry period to minimize food insecurity, women empowerment through training on VSLAs and creation of awareness on diversification of livelihoods such as crop farming, fishing and beading to ensure that they have alternate means of survival when pastoralism cannot sustain them fully especially during drought. This is also seen as a way of Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation.
Donkey theft and slaughter is just but a few of what the organization has been doing on the ground just to mention. APaD has also been involved a lot in conflict resolution and peace keeping in the North west Kenya. Livestock rustling, that includes donkey theft in Turkana county for a long time has been one of the source of conflict for communities in the Karamoja cluster and the Cross border areas.
Mark Amojong, who is a chief from one of the Sub counties and a member of the Cross Border Chiefs forum in Turkana county tells us that APaD has been a great pillar in maintaining peace in the area. “Due to the rampant donkey theft in the borders, there has been high levels of conflict among the involved communities. APaD through civil servants like myself have been facilitating meetings to come up with ways to solve the conflicts and through these meetings, we have been able to recover some of the stolen livestock. To some extent, the cattle theft at the North Pokot border also stopped.” He says.
APaD has been funding the warring communities by building markets that bring them together when selling their items and through this, they are able to negotiate on the pressing needs and conflicts amongst themselves. Youths have also been recruited as warriors and funded to maintain peace between the communities.
As a chief, he highlights that through support from APaD, several households have been encouraged to take their children to school as an investment in education pays the best interest. Speaking during the interview, Mark mentions that there has been however a number of challenges that the children encounter; “overcrowding in schools-one teacher is allocated to 100 pupils and it becomes a great challenge attending to them, lack of water and food in schools, Impassable roads to school, lack of permanent settlements, a factor that makes most children drop out of school as they move to look for greener pastures. APaD has been working with other relief organisations to ensure that relief food is supplied to schools and that all children stay in school.” He says.
Having been born and raised in the pastoralist communities, both Lucy and Mark acknowledge that there are number of things that need to be done even as APaD continues to execute its good work.
“Using elders, women, the youth, reformed cattle rustlers and people with disabilities would be a good step towards halting livestock theft and conflicts and ensuring that peace is reinstated among the warring communities because these are people that can have a positive influence in the community”
They recommend establishment of more schools in the pastoral communities, additional teachers, development of infrastructure like roads, permanent schools and settlements, more watering points to reduce movement and government intervention in funding the relief organisations to enable them continue offering humanitarian actions and emergencies in these areas.
As community leaders, they encourage the community to stop livestock theft and result to income generating activities in the region. Parents are highly encouraged to take children to school and advice the youth to stop indulging in drugs as this highly contributes to the theft acts.