But not this one

BARINGO county, in Kenya’s Rift Valley, is a hard place. Water is short in the dusty bush, so businesses tend not to thrive. But one industry is booming. At the edge of Mogotio, a town of roadside shops, hundreds of donkeys graze along the road. They are waiting to be sold for slaughter at the local abattoir. Next to a lorry, a woman in a shimmering dress says she has brought 100 donkeys from Moyale, two days’ drive north. She expects to make several thousand dollars from the sale.

Across Africa, donkeys are used as beasts of labour. Most Kenyans turn up their noses at the idea of eating them. But Chinese entrepreneurs have opened a new market. In China donkey skins are used to make a gelatine, called ejiao, that is used as traditional medicine. The meat is also a delicacy. The abattoir in Baringo has been running for almost two years, slaughtering hundreds of donkeys a day to satisfy Chinese demand.

The slaughterhouse employs some 400 people. Isaac Kibengo says that he came from Kitale, 200km (125 miles) away, to work packaging skins. He gets health insurance, a housing allowance and about 20,000 shillings ($200) per month, a good salary in Kenya. “They even pay on time,” he says.

But the trade has also caused an outcry. The Donkey Sanctuary, a British charity, worries that the donkey population is falling in some African countries, that the animals are mistreated and that the trade is fuelling a rise in donkey theft. The Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad, another British charity, thinks it knows better than donkey owners what is good for them. “For a subsistence farmer in a country like Ethiopia...being offered the equivalent of £150 ($208), cash in hand, could seem like an offer too good to turn down,” it said. “But the long-term consequences of selling their means of generating an income are unthinkable.” Several African countries have banned the export of donkeys because of such concerns.

They might do better helping farmers increase supply to take advantage of a doubling in the price. To be fair, this is hard, since donkeys reproduce slowly. Yet it can be done. Some ejiao firms plan to replace imports with Chinese donkeys. Banning a trade that raises money for the poor makes asses of those who claim to speak for them.