Let’s breed

By Zhang Ye Source:Global Times Published: 2017/8/20 18:23:39

Chinese ejiao producer sets up international alliance to boost donkey cultivation and meet market demands

A view of extraction facilities for Dong-E-E-Jiao's Fu Fang Ejiao Jiang Photo: Zhang Ye/GT

The donkey is more than just a mode of transport in some less economically developed countries. Its skin can be used to produce ejiao, a traditional Chinese medicine that is gaining worldwide popularity due to its blood-nourishing benefits. But the rising demand of ejiao is causing the mass death of donkeys every year. And farmers' reluctance to enhance breeding has provoked concerns among experts that the global donkey population is at risk of endangerment. In order to ensure a supply-demand balance in the market, an international alliance of firms and experts has recently been established to boost donkey cultivation around the world.

Lu Donglin, the managing director of Goldox Kenya, the first donkey slaughterhouse in Kenya, Africa, is concerned that his company will soon run out of livestock.

"A worldwide donkey shortage is looming… and it could only take three years for the species to become extinct," the 72-year-old Kenyan-Chinese told the Global Times.

Lu's pessimistic forecast reflects market concerns that donkey populations are at risk amid rising demands for the animal's skin in China, which is boiled and stewed by producers to be used as ejiao, a traditional Chinese medicine that is gaining prestige around the world.

Africa, with its huge donkey population, is a key supplier to the donkey-skin trade.

As a major supplier to China's ejiao production leader, Dong-E-E-Jiao Co Ltd, Goldox processes more than 400 donkeys per day. The figures have doubled since last April when the facility first opened its doors to the public, said Lu.

Rising ejiao fever

According to Qin Yufeng, president of Dong-E-E-Jiao, Chinese ejiao producers have to pool resources from around the world to satisfy ejiao enthusiasm, not only in China, but also beyond borders.

Ejiao, with 3,000 years of history, is a traditional Chinese healthcare product that has many benefits for human beings, such as nourishing blood and treating anemia.

Its name was coined in Dong'e county, East China's Shandong Province, where the product was originally produced.

On top of rising demands for ejiao from the upper Chinese middle-class, "we have also seen our ejiao exports continually rise at an annual rate of 30 percent," Qin told a press conference held at the company's headquarters in Dong'e.

In Indonesia, for instance, one of Dong-E-E-Jiao's medicine products, Fu Fang Ejiao Jiang, has gained fame for treating fever and low platelet counts caused by dengue fever, a mosquito-borne virus that occurs year-round in Indonesia, with peak transmission occurring during the rainy season between October and April.

According to a post by an Indonesian blogger called Christine, her friends and relatives all used Fu Fang Ejiao Jiang when contracting dengue fever. Their platelet counts "almost immediately increased after drinking the medicine," she wrote.

Information on shopee.co.id, a popular online consumer-to-consumer marketplace in Indonesia, shows that a single shop's monthly sale of Fu Fang Ejiao Jiang can reach up to 20 boxes.

About 5,000 tons of ejiao are produced every year to meet demands domestically and abroad, which means the supply of donkey hides has to stand at around 4 million sheets annually to strike a supply-demand balance in the market, according to figures from Shandong Ejiao Trade Association.

"We cannot meet global ejiao demands by merely relying on resources in China," said Qin.

In China, a major home to the animal, the donkey population has continued to decline over recent years to 5.42 million in 2015 after reaching a peak of 11 million in the 1990s, according to data published by the National Bureau of Statistics. 

Not a breeding golden age

As ejiao demands continue to rise while donkey populations decline, the selling prices of donkey hides in China multiplied almost 100 times during the 1996-2015 period, the Beijing Youth Daily reported in December 2016.

This also caused donkey-hide prices in Kenya to increase to a staggering 15,000 Kenyan shillings ($146) per sheet at the beginning of this year from that of a much lower price of 200 shillings a year ago, according to Lu. 

But despite the fact that donkey-hide trade is thriving, Lu does not anticipate a drastic jump in donkey breeding.

"Breeding donkeys can help ease shortage risks, but it [the industry] is still doomed to lose out on money," Lu said, citing longer investment cycles than other livestock as the reason.

Generally speaking, it takes about three years of efforts and investments to raise a donkey ready for the slaughterhouse, while the breeding of a pig, for instance, takes just a few months.

Lu estimated that farmers need to sell at least five donkeys to offset the costs of raising one donkey.

According to Lu, donkeys in Africa are predominantly living in the wild instead of being treated as livestock, while in China, some local governments have to encourage farmers to raise donkeys as livestock through the incentive of subsidies.

For instance, a farmer of Liaocheng, a city in Shandong, can get 300,000 yuan ($44,977) subsidies for breeding 1,000 donkeys.

Making improvements

To boost donkey breeding, Qin told the Global Times that his company has cultivated an improved breed of donkey that only requires one and a half years for full growth and can generate economic value that is worth more than six times higher than the ordinary breed.

Meanwhile, Dong-E-E-Jiao has called on overseas enterprises and experts to explore and promote advanced husbandry technologies around the world via a new international alliance set up last Tuesday.

The alliance has attracted firms and institutions from China and four other countries, including Australia, Italy and Japan, as well as 16 overseas donkey industry experts. Its preliminary fund is expected to reach $10 million in five years.

"As a major importer of donkey skin, Dong-E-E-Jiao is wise to take those measures. After all, donkey-hide trade cannot sustain current growth rates without a prosperous breeding link," Ma Wenfeng, a senior analyst with Beijing-based market consultancy BOABC, told the Global Times Friday.

He noted that the alliance could be useful and could not only ensure a supply-demand balance in the market, but also drive economic benefits for potential donkey-skin exporting countries.

Under the guidance of the international alliance, Dong-E-E-Jiao's self-cultivated donkeys have found a market in Brazil.

Buyers in a state of the Latin American country have planned to purchase 1,000 of the newly bred donkeys to grab opportunities engendered by "ejiao fever."

However, Ma also warned that the alliance is a loose agreement, based on mutual interests.

"If donkey-skin prices cannot continuously remain high, the alliance may slacken and break up," he added.

Lu raised concerns about rampant donkey-hide smuggling activities enabled by some corrupt government officials in Africa, which he said has led to the over-hunting of donkeys in the region and has worsened the global donkey shortage.

Lu advises that law-abiding government efforts are also required, while firms and experts make joint efforts in pursuing a sound donkey industry.

Posted in: INSIGHT

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