1. Animal Husbandry

Donkeys : the Power Engine of Rural India Heading Towards Decline

Chander Mohan
Chander Mohan

Food security is – rightly so – associated with the nutritional value of foods that people need, and therefore food production livestock are considered important for food security because they provide nutritional food outputs. In contrast, the outputs produced by non-food production livestock such as horses, donkeys and mules are not easily quantifiable – they do however provide draught energy. They do not have a direct nutritional impact, but they do have a financial impact on the overall economy of the nation. Unfortunately whilst food production animals are considered livestock, working animals have not been included in the livestock category in India.

Though working equids technically fall under the category of livestock, they are often not considered as such by policy makers mainly because they do not produce food of animal origin and so are not perceived as a critical element of people’s livelihoods.

The beasts of burden, draught animals, like horses, mules and donkeys, are the power engine of rural India and many other developing countries, yet, their role and contribution remain unacknowledged in national and global policies.

The attention of the media was then drawn to the recently released data of the livestock census 2019, wherein the Indian equine population figures had decreased significantly, especially those of donkeys. Though mechanization of transport could be attributed as a factor in the declining employability of working equines, 62% fall in donkey population was actually a cause of serious concern, keeping in view the emerging demand of donkey hide in Chinese markets for production of Ejiao. This horrendous demand for ejiao has already destroyed a large portion of the world’s donkey population. It was felt that this situation warranted further investigation in the Indian context.

According to the available data online, the horses and donkeys are dwindling species both by decrease in number and also by the dilution of the breeds as a result of indiscriminate breeding due to non-availability of purebred stallions in want of organized breeding.

Of the total equine population in India, donkey, horses/ponies and mules constitute 50.24 percent , 40.93 percent  and 8.83 percent  respectively. The population of horses and ponies is 24988 and donkeys is 25779. The world’s horse population is 55.5 million, mule 12.8 million and donkeys 40.3 million.

In an initiative to enable media to capture the issues concerning welfare of working equines and the developmental needs of the equine owning community, who are from the underprivileged and marginalised strata of society, Brooke India conducted a Media Sensitisation Workshop at its Head office, in Sahibabad near Delhi. It is hoped that on culmination, it will pave the way for enhancing interest in this niche subject and enable larger policy interventions in and around equine welfare in India.

The Brooke Hospital for Animals (India) or Brooke India (BI) as it is popularly known is a Not For Profit Company, registered in June 2001, under Section 8 of the Indian Companies Act. It is an Animal Welfare Organization recognized by the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI). Since its inception, BI has been working to improve the lives of vulnerable working equids and the communities in some of the most challenging areas of the country. BI works closely with all the major government stakeholders including State Animal Husbandry Departments, Ministry of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries, Agricultural Skill Council of India, Animal Welfare Board of India, Veterinary Universities etc.

The media sensitisation workshop has therefore been designed to bring to the forefront the multitude of issues of working equines; thereby creating a constructive dialogue, which would evince various approaches to address them.

Addressing the inaugural session, Brig Jyothikumar Dharmadheeran, Country Director, Brooke India underscored the fact that the contribution of working equines to the economy is generally understated and rarely considered newsworthy. This was contrarian to the fact that working equines in this country constitute more than 90 percent  of the net equine population. They are the main source of livelihood to a significant but marginalised segment of the Indian society. Animal husbandry policies are generally formulated to favour production livestock, often leaving equines behind in the discourse of policy discussions.

In his session, Dr Vijay Malla, Team Leader Extension & Training, BI briefed the participants’ about Five Freedoms framework for animal welfare, BI’s approach to Veterinary Service Provision-Affordable, Acceptable, Accessible, Available, Quality(AAAAQ), and BI’s focus on capacity building of local animal health service providers in the field.

Dr SF Zaman, one of the Heads of Region Programs, BI shared his perspective on BI’s work beyond Animal Welfare; Community Engagement and Livelihood interventions. He revealed how BI has been working towards human behavioural change through the BI’s programmatic approaches to equine owning communities. He highlighted the fact that in the contribution of working equines in the country’s economy, more than 70 percent  of working equines were employed in the brick kiln industry. BI therefore worked with brick kiln owners and the equine owning community in improving the welfare issues of working equines and the community as a whole, both of whom were otherwise, often neglected.

Journalists, representatives from animal welfare organisations with interest in rural development, environment issues and animal welfare organisation participated in the seminar.

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