Donkey abattoir must secure public acceptance
THE donkey works extremely hard for us, but most of us despise it. It is often mistreated whereas its colleagues cattle, goats and sheep are well taken care of. It pulls carts and ploughs and is able to carry loads on its back as well. No other domestic animal can perform these important dual tasks for us. It tolerates hunger more than cattle and other livestock.
We are socialised to think that the donkey exists to carry all our burdens, so to speak, but deserves no credit. Despite its versatility and sturdiness, the animal does not command much by way of commercial value yet its close relative, the horse, does. We don’t know why.
Zimbabweans don’t eat donkey meat, it is meat for crocodiles and vultures. Since we don’t eat its meat, most donkeys tend to die due to old age. Any mention of its meat triggers much public revulsion.
This is the revulsion that has been triggered by a $150 000 investment to build the country’s first donkey abattoir in Douglasdale, Umguza, just outside Bulawayo by Battlefront Investments. The facility will slaughter 70 donkeys a day when it starts operating by the end of this month. The company is already buying and fattening stock in readiness for its and the country’s first commercial slaughter.
Battlefront Investments managing director, Mr Gareth Lumsden told our sister paper
“Nothing really has changed in terms of how the animals will be dealt with. It will be the same as if you are buying cattle, sheep or goats but if you get to a particular area if you are buying cattle, goat or sheep you need to get police clearance. You still have to get a Department of Livestock Veterinary Services movement permit. You still have to seek with a particular council, if there are funds to be paid to the respective council. All of that is being done, it’s in place and we should be good to go in a couple of weeks.”
The Government has been alarmed by Mr Lumsden’s rare investment, as we have been. An assurance that the meat would be exclusively for export to China has not been good enough. The Chinese have an appetite for donkey meat. They also use its skin to make a traditional remedy which uses donkey gelatin, to treat a wide range of ailments including colds and insomnia.
Indeed Battlefront Investments has a task to convince all of us that the donkey meat that they will process will not end up on our dinner tables. The fact that the company is already operating butcheries three in Bulawayo and one in Victoria Falls makes the whole situation more intriguing. To what extent can we trust Battlefront Investments that some donkey meat will not end up in the four outlets?
It is a huge confidence issue which needs the Government and other stakeholders to work on most diligently.
Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Deputy Minister, Cde Paddy Zhanda, visited the abattoir on Wednesday to get a deeper understanding of the investment and how it will be run. He spoke for all of us when he said eating donkey meat is taboo in our country.
“We therefore have an obligation to put measures in place to ensure that donkey meat is not sold in local butcheries,” he said.
We look forward to the measures being put in place but before then we suggest, as a precondition for the facility to open, a permanent deployment of law enforcement agencies at the place. These officers, supported by veterinary experts would be monitoring the slaughter of the animals, the packaging of their meat and provide escort to the point at which it is airlifted from Zimbabwean territory to China. They just have to be there along the way, just in case.
Accurate records of animals at the farm, their slaughter and transportation of the meat to China must be kept also. They should be available for perusal at any time by law enforcement agents or other Government officials.
In addition, the company has to convince civil society organisations who have raised much dust over the past few weeks, saying the investment has potential to precipitate theft of donkeys and their over-exploitation in terms of slaughter that the process would be sustainable.
Issues to do with sustainability are critical given lessons from other countries such as Botswana, Tanzania, Niger and Burkina Faso where populations were depleting so fast that governments feared a possible extinction of the animal.
However, we must commend Mr Lumsden for seeing business where all of us saw no value, a mere donkey to be overworked and abused. If his business gets its papers in order, the investment would help in monetising the animal. More people might be encouraged to rear donkey on a commercial scale knowing that at the end of the day, there is money to be made from them. Even its mistreatment might end as well.