Largely neglected from mainstream discourse, donkeys have been sorely underrated as significant contributors to the process of development. There are currently about 44 million donkeys across the world, with half in Asia, about a quarter in Africa and the rest mainly in Latin America. Within these countries, donkeys are most often used for transport and agriculture, yet their social and economic benefits frequently go without recognition.
The donkey is a multi-purpose animal, able to carry out a wide variety of tasks under very limited circumstances. Donkeys are fast learners, surprisingly strong (they can carry loads about half their body weight), resistant to many diseases, have a long working life, require little water, and are easy to manage. Most importantly to many animal owners in developing countries, donkeys are much cheaper to purchase than oxen, horses and other animals used for working purposes. Further, donkeys are able to withstand heat and dry conditions, but find difficulty with cold and wet climates, making clear their relevance to developing nations.
While traditional agricultural practices in the global South have changed considerably as a result of modernization and globalization, donkeys still play a central role in providing for the livelihoods of many small-scale farmers. Their roles differ from country to country and farm to farm, but in general, donkeys help increase farmers’ productive potential and positively contribute to their well-being.
In addition, there has been growing global awareness of the role of donkeys in changing gender power relations. Women have experienced increasing access to ownership of donkeys, which they often use to fulfill household needs that are otherwise more difficult to accomplish. Since women are able to contribute more to the family unit, they are experiencing increasing status within traditional family structures. Read: donkeys are helping to empower women.
Yet despite the donkey’s vital economic importance to people in developing nations, these animals are still looked upon as indicators of backwardness and underdevelopment. This devaluation of donkeys by the process of modernization has sorely limited the donkey’s potential, all in the name of keeping up to date in a globalized world. Will the day of the donkey ever come?
– Tara Young