Wednesday, September 6, 2017

China: Let Them Raise Donkeys

China's approach to "precise poverty alleviation" focuses on starting up industry chains to pull poor people out of poverty, both at home and abroad.

At first glance, the "International Symposium on Donkey Industry Development" held last month in Shandong's Dong'e County sounds like a joke to those of us unaware of the value of donkeys, but it was quite a serious occasion with millions of dollars at stake.

 Online Donkey Exchange kick-off held in December 2016.
The online donkey exchange set up in the same city last December--the first online donkey trading platform in China!--also sounds like a satirical article from The Onion, but it also is a serious venture. This "Internet + Donkey" model aims to bring the little fellows into the era of "big data", with an expectation of 300 donkeys traded daily and eventually becoming a center for global donkey trade.

"Revitalizing the Chinese donkey industry is our responsibility to donkey farmers for 'precise poverty alleviation,'" said Qin Yufeng, president of the Dong'e E'jiao company that hosted both the symposium and online donkey exchange. President Qin was keynote speaker at the donkey symposium, serves as head of the donkey exchange, was inaugurated head of an international donkey technology alliance founded at the symposium, and heads the Chinese Animal Husbandry Industry Association's donkey section.

Mr. Qin continued: "Investment in donkey-farming and trade is a win-win for everyone: farmers escape poverty, local government gets more revenue, trading is enlivened, businesses are started up- and downstream, and jobs are created."
Farmers display awards at a donkey exhibition in northeastern China

Why donkeys? Dong'e (东阿) County is the home of a traditional Chinese medicine called E'jiao (阿胶, named after the county), a gelatin made from donkey skins which purportedly has all kinds of benefits and is high demand in China. Output (of authentic medicine) is limited by the number of donkeys in China which has fallen by about 50 percent since the 1990s as farms mechanize. To make matters worse, donkeys reproduce slowly due to low fertility and a long gestation period. With the shortage of raw material for a product in high demand, the price of both e'jiao and donkey skins has soared.

Dong'e E'jiao, the Shandong company that makes the medicine, set up the donkey exchange and sponsored the international symposium, which President Qin hopes will "break through a raw material bottleneck for the company."

The company and/or the county seems to have some clout. Shandong province declared donkey-farming a key industry for poverty alleviation. Liucheng Municipality in Dong'e County has been developing the industry since 2015 and last year had 207 scaled-up donkey farms and 100 poverty-alleviation donkey farms. Liucheng aspires to be a nationally-recognized breeding base with 1 million black donkeys by 2020. Tongtiankai City has the county's first donkey market with 120 vendors, and aims to be China's central collection point for commercial donkeys.

Despite these efforts, China's demand for donkeys has outstripped domestic supply. Traders have been combing the globe in search of skins and hoofs, and Africa has been a prime destination. Traders bought up so many donkeys that Niger and Burkina Faso banned donkey exports last year. Henan Province officials made overtures to South African counterparts about a donkey investment deal, but smuggling--often by criminal syndicates--has caused an uproar in South Africa. The Chinese embassy issued a statement earlier this year denying involvement of Chinese companies in the trade and asked the press to stop reporting stories about the topic.

Now China wants to organize the donkey trade under the banner of One Belt One Road. Chinese companies will go forth into poor remote regions of South and Central Asia and Africa, doing business, building agricultural industrial parks, sharing technical and market information, and creating industry chains that enrich farmers.

These themes were prominent at the International Donkey Industry Academic Exchange Meeting held in Dong'e last month. The meeting hosted experts from 16 countries to form a blueprint for development of a global donkey industry, discuss breeding, health, animal welfare, and commercial supply chains for donkeys, and their potential economic value. A "Dong'e Consensus" issued at the meeting called for governments to devote more attention to donkeys in research and international exchanges. The symposium launched an international alliance for donkey industry technology and set up a $10 million fund to support donkey research.

Earlier this year, a province in northwest Pakistan announced a sustainable donkey development program aimed at attracting Chinese investment as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, one of the most prominent segments of the Belt and Road initiative. Pakistani officials’ described the program to “export donkeys to the government of China” with language seemingly drawn from the Chinese blueprint. It will feature new office buildings, dormitories for workers, investment in machinery and equipment, and a “rigorous breeding program” to meet market demand.

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