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Kirinyaga residents underscore importance of donkey in lifting livelihoods

By Rading Biko | Oct 30th 2020 | 4 min read
By Rading Biko | October 30th 2020

Mary Muthee, a donkey champion in Nguka, Mwea (Photo: Biko Rading)

In Kenya just like any other country in Africa and other developing continents, donkeys support livelihoods and generate income for the most marginalized households, but their social and economic contribution is overlooked in development policy.

According to Eston Murithi CEO, Kenya Network for Dissemination of Agricultural Technologies “These animals are a critical source of support to most households, creating economic security, social status, empowerment to marginalized groups such as women and the very poor, and provide a sense of companionship to their owners hence it’s time we shift our focus to the beast of burden and try and empower our rural people on the importance of the donkey to the entire agricultural value chain.”

Meet Margaret Njoki, a donkey owner in Ndorome Village, Kirinyaga County who says that her life changed the day she purchased her first donkey.

“Life was terrible here in our village since we were forced to walk kilometres to fetch water and we could only manage a trip a day but even the water we could fetch was not enough for our domestic use. Since Kendat empowered us on the importance of this animal, I have seen a huge difference in my household income,” says Njoki.

She owns two donkeys and has since been able to support her husband in caring for the family.

Njoki adds “Daily one donkey fetches an income of between Sh600 - Sh1000, in the past we could not even afford half of that. Daily we use a donkey at a construction site where my husband will use the animal to transport material and water while I will use the other one to fetch water and transport rice from the farm to the millers. This has enabled us to educate our children with lots of ease and we have already acquired a plot where we plan to construct semi-permanent rental houses and all these projects have been successful because of the donkey.”

Through an initiative dubbed ‘Heshimu Punda’ Njoki has been able to construct a donkey shelter for her animals.

They have been educated by Kendat on the importance of donkey shelter and this has improved the health status of the animal. Kendat has also sensitized us on the need to handle the animal, proper feeding, appropriate working hours, and general donkey welfare, I must say that I have seen a huge difference in the animals.” 

Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) research estimate that a donkey provides transport services worth Sh11, 400 per month on average.

A kilometre from Njoki’s homestead we meet Mary Wambui, owner of three donkeys.

“In our village when one owns a donkey they are considered as rich people and respected since they are the driver of the village economy. My donkeys’ income has enabled me to construct this house and also purchase all these other animals. My life has transformed since I started owning a donkey,” comments Wambui.

But things were not this rosy for smallholder farmers, previously as narrated by James Gachoki, Chairman of Ndorome Gituto Donkey Riders.

The 12-member group recalls how their donkeys could disappear when the donkey slaughterhouses were operational.

“The demand for donkey fuelled the theft of donkeys in Kirinyaga County and other parts of Kenya. You will wake up and find the donkey is gone, only to find the body parts in a bush. In a week we could lose between 5-10 donkeys. This forced us to spend the night outside guarding our source of income,” Gachoki recalls.

He praised the ban on donkey slaughterhouses that were put in place earlier this year Cabinet Secretary in charge of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries, and Cooperatives.

Gachoki adds that “Since the ban, we can now sleep peacefully at night not having to worry that we will wake up to find no animal. We deem the move to court by the abattoirs as a sign of bad things to come should they reverse the decision by the CS since this will greatly affect our only source of income.”

The Kenya Network for Dissemination of Agricultural Technologies has also been working with locals to sensitize them on the importance of donkey protection.

“Most of the locals here didn’t own a donkey shelter and the animals will be left outside the homes, sleeping on harsh weather conditions. This negatively impacted their health status, making them less productive hence low income. This is the main reason why as a player within the agricultural sector, we sensitized the farmers on the importance of donkey sheltering and how it has a positive impact on the psychological aspect of the animal,” Murithi comments.

He urges policymakers to realize that donkeys’ versatility cannot be overlooked. “Donkeys all over the world support growing economic landscapes and are a part of the social and cultural fabric of human society.”

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