By Fred Biketi
Donkey meat exporters can now continue with their business after the High Court in Naivasha lifted a ban on the slaughter of the animals.
Owners of a Naivasha based slaughterhouse moved to court to challenge a gazette notice issued by the Minister for Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Cooperatives on March 20th 2020.
Both owners and traders of the lucrative business whose exports target the Chinese market had cried foul after the ban was imposed, saying they would incur heavy loses.
Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya, who is in charge of the Livestock docket had in the gazette notice revoked licences for Naivasha based Star Brilliant, Goldox Kenya (Mogotio), Silzha (Turkana) and Fuhai (Machakos) slaughterhouses.
In Kimana, Loitokitok and surrounding areas donkeys were beasts of burden engaged to carry heavy loads or to perform other heavy work such as pulling water hand carts until four years ago.
Due to the drought situation in the area, donkeys were given out free of charge to neighbours to carry water from boreholes and streams and also to transport farm produce to local markets because of the poor roads in the area.
Today, the story has changed because of the high demand of the animal’s products among them meat, hides and hooves that are exported to China by a Chinese businessmen operating slaughterhouses in Baringo, Naivasha, Kithioko and Dodoma in Tanzania.
“There was no market for donkeys during my time when I was serving as the Councillor for Kimana Ward. This donkey business started sometimes in 2015 when the Chinese opened the abattoirs in Rift Valley,” says retired civic leader Risie ole Parmuat.
There are not many donkeys left in the area because of the high demand but many more are brought to the markets from neighbouring Tanzania.
Until late last year, donkeys were sold at an open field near the Kimana livestock yard on Tuesdays, when hundreds of livestock traders from as far as Nairobi flock there to buy and ferry cows, goats and sheep in trucks to other towns for slaughter.
“The donkey traders were not paying market fees because the business was not known to many people here until it began booming, that is when they were asked to move to the market where each donkey is taxed by the County government like other livestock,” stated Parmuat.
A large donkey now goes for between Sh7,000 and Sh9,000 up from Sh5,000 in 2015 at the Kimana open air market but the traders take home Sh20,000 for a big one delivered to the Chinese at the Mogotio abattoir.
Speaking to County Press, Beatrice Kaluki Nzyuko the most prominent donkey trader who buys not less than 30 donkeys at the Kimana market every Tuesday said she gets most of the donkeys from Tanzania and the North Eastern region.
“Kenya has no donkeys, what we get from them here are small malnourished animals, that is why most traders inside this market today are Tanzanians while Kenyans brought only three donkeys,” said Nzyuko.
Market attendants concurred that most of the donkeys are brought in from across the border, although local traders also visit villages where they purchase cheap donkeys for delivery to the market.
“Most of the donkeys we have in towns are used by traders to pull water carts, that is why they do not sell them, largely because it is their only source of income,” said Julius ole Mayiani, a resident of the fast growing Kimana township.
Nzyuko’s worry is the concerted campaign in the media by animal rights activists who have demanded that the donkey slaughterhouses in Mogotio and Naivasha be closed because they are depleting stocks in the country.
Nzyuko’s day at the market on Tuesdays begins as early as 8.30 when the first donkeys are delivered by either farmers or middlemen who buy the animals from across the border.
She always sits on a rock from where she engages the donkey owners in tough bargaining before paying them while her colleague only identified as Dorcas leads a team of hired men in applying identification paint on backs of animals that have been bought.
Once all donkeys have been bought, they are loaded onto trucks and driven to Mogotio, where they are slaughtered and the meat stored in refrigerated containers and driven to the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport cargo area for export to China.
In an interview with the media, recently, the owner of the Mogotio abattoir Lu Jin said they have dealt with most of the complaints that were being raised by local residents, among them pollution, foul smell and smoke that was emanating from the chimneys.
“We came up with a bone meal plant whose boilers crushes them to produce powder that is then sold to animal feed manufacturers,” said Lu.
He also defended the company against accusations that it was responsible for depleting donkey’s across the country because they now have their own donkey breeding field that will make them self- sufficient when they mature.
He said the business has employed many people both at the plant and across the country because they have many suppliers who also work with other people to get the donkeys and deliver them at Mogotio.
“There are 208 employees who work in Mogotio, some taking care of the 102 donkeys that are at the six acre breeding ground and bottle feeding foals. We also buy hay and grass from the local community,” said Lu.
A donkey takes 14 months to mature for slaughter, but the challenge donkey breeders face is that most animals especially those procured from North Eastern and some parts of Tanzania and Somalia die because of stress and climate change.
The chinese investors now insists on procuring donkeys from Baringo and surrounding areas like Marakwet for breeding after 80 percent of the animals bought from places like Garsen died when the breeding project began at Mogotio in 2017.