Donkey power: an accepted yet neglected technology
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CTA. 1990. Donkey power: an accepted yet neglected technology. Spore 30. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/45396
The time has come for donkeys to change their international image, so that the world can acknowledge their true worth. Unlike horses, animals of high status, donkeys have been associated with poverty and second-best, yet in many African and some...
The time has come for donkeys to change their international image, so that the world can acknowledge their true worth. Unlike horses, animals of high status, donkeys have been associated with poverty and second-best, yet in many African and some Caribbean countries they have an important, though often underestimated, role in rural development. There are about 40 million donkeys (or asses) in the world, of which 12 million (30%) are to be found in Africa. They are well adapted to semi-arid ecosytems, and in Africa most donkeys are found in the countries bordering the Sahara desert, with smaller numbers in eastern and southern. Africa. The country with the largest population of donkeys is Ethiopia. Donkeys are traditionally transport animals, used for riding, packing and pulling carts. They have great patience, and are willing to wait for long periods for loads. They are also highly dependable, and this allows them to travel with minimal supervision between places they know well. In comparison to oxen, donkeys can walk or trot quite quickly, and this is a distinct advantage when travelling to and from market. The maximum loads a donkey can carry are surprisingly great for their size' although their ability to draw agricultural implements is more limited due to their light weight. Nevertheless, they are increasingly being used to work with cultivators, seeders and small ploughs in light soils, and there are many development projects currently working on this, including some in The Gambia, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Niger, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Sudan, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. For heavier work donkeys can be harnessed in pairs or in larger teams. In Botswana, for instance, up to eight donkeys may be hitched to one large plough. Where more power is needed than a donkey can supply, horses or mules may be appropriate. These tend to be specialist transport animals, of high cost and status, but they may be employed for agricultural operations at certain times of the year. For example, in Senegal and Lesotho, transport horses are widely used for rapidly pulling seeders and light cultivators. Mules, formed by crossing a female horse with a male donkey, are excellent work animals that are mainly found in the Americas, North Africa, and northern China. In Ethiopia over one million mules are used for riding and packing while in Swaziland a small number of mules have been used for timber extraction. As mules are high-value, specialized work animals they are rarely used in agriculture in ACP countries since small farmers generally prefer multipurpose work animals (oxen and draft cows) or low-cost, specialized work animals, notably donkeys. Donkey power on the increase In West Africa, the geographical range of donkeys is expanding southwards as the climate changes and the tsetse challenge is reduced. Thirty years ago, donkeys were not common in The Gambia, but now they have replaced oxen as the major draft animals and are used for tillage, seeding and weeding as well as transport. In many societies cattle and horses have social roles relating to wealth and status, and men traditionally control them. In such circumstances, donkeys may prove ideal work animals for use by women and children, since they are easily managed and few rules inhibit their ownership or use. Farmers also argue that donkeys are more appropriate than oxen, being affordable and very easy to train and look after. Moreover, as they are not eaten, donkeys are not stolen for meat, and so can be allowed to roam freely in areas where oxen would need to be guarded. Agricultural production, as well as product marketing can be greatly stimulated through the use of donkey transport. When only human power is available, animal manures and crop residues are often poorly utilized. With the use of carts or donkey panniers, manure can be easily transported to the field, and residues collected for storage. This cycle has the potential for positive feedback: manure application may raise yields, and the stored residues improve draft animal nutrition, facilitating more timely or more extensive land preparation and further yield increases. Perhaps the time has come for the donkey's true worth to be recognized and for it to be accorded a more important role in agricultural development As an indication that donkeys are now being taken more seriously, a workshop on the role of donkeys, horses and mules in agricultural development was hosted by the Centre for Tropical Veterinary Medicine in Edinburgh in September 1990. About 80 people from 17 countries participated. They included animal scientists and veterinarians, agricultural engineers, staff of development projects and people concerned with animal welfare. Their common interest to increase knowledge and understanding of the neglected donkey. The workshop highlighted the fact that although donkeys are known to provide valuable work and seem capable of thriving with minimal grazing and water, little scientific research has been carried out on them. So, workshop participants resolved to work, in the coming years, for increased understanding, enhanced and improved systems of utilization and greater attention to the care and health of working donkeys.