A Donkey Is More Than Just a Draft Animal

Namibia’s first ever Livestock Catalogue was launched last week in Windhoek by the Minister of Agriculture, Water and Forestry John Mutorwa, and it was met with great excitement and a promise that the catalogue will be made available to farmers in even the remotest areas via extension officers in the ministry. The catalogue summarises information about livestock breeds and echo-types in Namibia as is meant to be a guide for all livestock farmers in their quest to become better producers by knowing their animals. Farmers Forum’s Deon Schlechetr will from now on regularly feature articles on all the animals contained in the catalogue. Today he looks at some interesting facts about the donkey.

Namibia plays host to some 200 000 donkeys of which 90 percent are found in the Northern Communal Areas (NCAs). These animals play a vital role in performing everyday tasks in these communities. Amongst these tasks is transport, carrying baggage, water containers or people, ploughing andor weeding of crop fields, and riding. Donkeys have tended to replace oxen as draft animals in the highly populated-overgrazed areas of North Central. Donkeys can graze where cattle would have starved and have hence been sent to the cattle posts. Donkeys are not taken to the cattle posts. If properly fed they can pull carts throughout the dry season, and plow at the beginning of the cropping season.

Donkey meat and donkey milk have fast risen in popularity among some Namibians as the milk is closest to human milk and very nutritious. In Namibia, donkeys are also used as guard animals due to their aversion to predators.

A significant proportion of rural households are headed by women because they are widows and because many men work in the cities. There is a gender bias in that men are normally regarded as the ones that should look after cattle. Such a social barrier does not exist for donkeys. Also, donkeys are more steady than oxen and are more easily trained by women. Oxen are usually seen by women as more dangerous than donkeys. The use of donkeys as draft animals would reduce the work load of women and also of many children, thus allowing them to go to school.

The donkey played its part in Namibia making headlines across the globe when in 2012 a centre caring for orphans and vulnerable children at Tsumeb started milking donkeys to provide nutrition to the needy. The Tov Multipurpose Centre at Tsumeb was started in 2001 in response to the growing number of orphans and vulnerable children in the Oshikoto region. This project is a community-based initiative aimed at two key areas: firstly to help and support orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs) in the region and secondly as an income-generating scheme to raise funds and to provide jobs for the local community.

Up to then, the donkey were seen by Oshiwambo speaking peoples a work animal and not as an animal that can provide nutrition. The milk is very sweet, nutritious, with low fat and high levels of vitamins and proteins. The benefits of donkey milk, both as a source of nutrition and as a skincare product, have been known for thousands of years (Cleopatra of Egypt is supposed to have bathed in it regularly), but they are little known today in Africa , and especially in Namibia.

In France in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, donkey milk was used as a palliative for people suffering from tuberculosis, and as a substitute for mother’s milk for orphans, with a number of hospitals maintaining herds of lactating donkeys for this purpose. There are reports that in Germany it was used for people with meningitis. Italy today is the biggest producer of donkey milk, which is mostly used in cosmetics as it is very low in fat, but also in hospitals for children who are allergic to other milk.

Source : New Era