It is no secret that Pakistan leaves no stone unturned in generating income as the nation sees its foreign cash reserves dry up. Hence, it was of no surprise that when China offered Pakistan the initiative to import a portion of its 5 million donkeys, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa department of livestock farming was quick to cooperate.
Why does China need Pakistani donkeys?
Donkeys, though often the butt of the joke in Pakistan, are creatures of great use and productivity in both rural and urban environments. Many perpetuate the notion that donkeys are locally used for little more than manual labour yet, China’s bid reveals their esteemed presence in the workflow of a current economic powerhouse.
The reason behind this popularity is their hide. This is valuable because it is used to make gelatin: a medicinal product believed to have unique properties such as enhanced immunity, prolonged life and well-nourished blood, just to name a few. This belief lies in the history of China.
The high demand for donkeys can be grasped from the price hike of a gelatin-derived Chinese medicine called ejiao from 130 yuan in 2001 to where it currently sits: 5400 yuan. However, the high demand for the product meant a shortage in supply and, as a result, China turned to its ally for help. Make no mistake, China was strategic in its asking as Pakistan is home to the third-largest population of donkeys worldwide.
How much does Pakistan stand to gain from this donkey deal?
An initial investment of $3 billion was agreed upon by foreign companies involved. This was carried out with the hope that donkey farming could be established on a commercial scale in Pakistan, providing its residents with another opportunity to strengthen the economy.
The deal appeared to be making steady progress as a hospital was opened in Lahore explicitly for donkeys. Similarly, two donkey farms were opened in Dera Ismail Khan and Mansehra. Initially, it was believed that the local breeders and traders would be able to generate income through this foreign exchange, which explains the heavy enthusiasm for the deal across the nation.
Yet, as it usually goes for foreign trade deals, the reality turned out to be quite different as the situation for the locals took a turn for the worse.
Why did this trade deal turn sour for the bottom of the capitalist food chain?
The opposition and collective outrage of the media that this initiative faced can be traced back to 2015. This is when Finance Minister Ishaq Dar placed a temporary ban on the export of donkey hides. Many, including the Minister, viewed this move to be of the utmost necessity as it had led to a full-fledged slaughter of the animals.
Moreover, the meat of the donkeys was exceedingly being used in local restaurants forcing authorities to take strict action against the businesses involved.
A repeat of such a fiasco is what the authorities wished to avoid.
Also, with the trade taking place on a large, international scale that is hardly sustainable for the local donkey population of KPK, the move suddenly became a no-brainer. For many in the province, these animals are the sole source of livelihood.
In conclusion, a large export of donkeys will not only lead to a crash in the local economy of KPK but it will lead to a decline in the population of the species. One can only hope that shortly, the government is smarter and uses these animals to their maximum potential – be it locally, or in trade deals.