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January 22, 2021

Donkeys losing against speedy motorisation in rural areas


January 22, 2021

HYDERABAD: Increasing motorisation of rural transportation has forced Muhammad Hassan, a donkey cart owner, to sell his beloved animal in the Hala New town market for a mere Rs20,000.

He expected to get Rs40,000-50,000 for the donkey. But with nobody willing to pay that much, he compromised on the price so he could buy a motorbike-pulled wooden cart.

Hassan is a farmer in village Karam Khan Nizamani near Hala, Matiari district. According to him, gone were the days when rural families considered the donkey important for transporting grass fodder, wheat straw, cotton, wheat, onion and seasonal fruits like mango and jujube during the harvest seasons.

Now, most farmers either have their own motorbike-pulled wooden cart or they hire one.

“In a season, I can earn Rs1,000-2,000 or more a day depending on the situation from my donkey cart,” he said.

Donkey carts provide livelihood to farmers and workers in both rural and suburban areas. These cart owners provide door to door transportation services for all kinds of products, and earn a little on daily basis.

In rural areas, after horses and camels, donkeys are also getting replaced by cheaply available motorbikes.

Reports gathered from donkey cart wage earners show that besides transporting grass fodder, fuel wood, vegetables, grains and seasonal fruits, they also carry perishable items like milk and eggs, and furniture with less damage.

Waqar Ali, a farmer, who owns a donkey cart for the last ten years, believes that the demand has declined because people prefer to hire rapid transport like loader or wooden cart. A donkey cart can carry hardly eight-ten maund, while a loader has a capacity to take 10-12 maund or more. A loader is much faster too, he added.

Nazir Ahmed, who has experience handling horse cart called tanga and donkey cart, said donkeys were useful, and provided employment to many people in the villages, who worked on a commercial basis to earn reasonable wages.

“It is a onetime investment to buy a healthy donkey and a durable cart at low rates to earn a little every day,” Ahmed said, accepting the fact that motorised vehicles carried more load and easily did two-three rounds compared to donkeys.

Therefore, people preferred to hire small vehicles for transporting their products instead of hiring donkey carts, he admitted.

A loader is priced between Rs250,000 and Rs300,000, while one can purchase a wooden cart with motorbike at Rs80,000 to Rs120,000. Compared to that donkey cart price ranges from Rs40,000 to 80,000 depending on the breed of donkey and cart. The price of donkey alone ranges from Rs10,000 to Rs50,000 or more, which is affordable for all the farmers.

Previously, almost all farmer families used to keep one or two donkeys for supporting them in work. Donkeys without carts can move easily on narrow terrains and paths in agriculture fields in all seasons. But now due to expanding road networks across the province its importance is declining. This animal still is useful for the poor and marginalised people in villages.

Ali Muhammad travels widely to groom camels, donkeys, and sheep. His work is at its peak during the season starting from spring in March to August-September. “Since the population of camels and donkeys has declined, I have lost business,” he shared.

Usually he charges Rs250-Rs300 per head for the animals. The purpose of grooming the animals is to avoid lice, mites and other insects, which cause diseases.

Recalling the past, he said camel fur and sheep wool had more value in the local market. The wool and fur rate was Rs12,000-13,000/maund in local markets. People with various skills used those raw materials for making products. But now, nobody was willing to buy these raw materials despite lower rates.

He said there were specific traders of donkeys, horses and camels, who travelled to animal markets. Mostly poor farmers preferred using donkeys for their day to day work, including carrying grass fodder, fuel wood, agriculture produce and input.

Researchers quoting Pakistan’s Economic Survey 2019-20 said donkey population was increasing more than other animals like camels and horses in the country. Despite its multiple uses, they believed that donkey was the most neglected animal, in terms of promoting through establishing specific breeding farms.

Donkey skin and fur has more value in the foreign market. They said that the low value of donkeys has also made the animal less vulnerable to theft.

Researchers said that visibly the use of donkey in rural environment was declining, but the people in urban areas loved this animal for different purposes, like using it for transportation and illegal gambling. Many traders from across the country travel to the famous three-day annual donkey mela at Tando Ghulam Ali town, Badin district, which itself attracts hundreds of animals for the business. Apart from this, farmers in Thar Desert and arid zones use donkey to plough the land for cultivation, considering it faster than other animals.

Despite its use, there is no specific donkey breeding farm in the province. Rural women use horse and donkey manure to maintain their mud houses. They also use donkeys to carry grass and firewood.

Some tribes keep herds of donkeys for collecting mud to build houses and boundary walls, while another tribe uses donkey herds to carry mud for transporting the raw material to brick kilns.

For the very poor and marginalised in both urban and rural neighbourhoods, the donkey ensures survival in a hostile environment as a cheap source of transport and a means to earn an income.