Nairobi, Feb 26 – Kenya’s agriculture minister has announced that the commercial slaughter of donkeys will be prohibited with effect from March after farmers complained that they were losing their animals in large numbers to thieves who sold them to abattoirs that process donkey meat and hide for export to China.

The minister, Peter Munya, said Kenya’s decision in 2012 to legalise trade in donkey meat and hide was a mistake that had caused the number of donkeys in the country to plummet from 1.8 million a decade ago to about 600,000 currently, as demand for donkey products in China kept growing. In China, donkey skins are used to make medicinal gelatin known as ejiao.

Donkey owners had last week petitioned President Uhuru Kenyatta urging him to order the closure of donkey abattoirs in the country, saying livestock thieves were stealing their animals to feed the growing demand in the slaughterhouses under pressure to supply Chinese markets.

Farmers in many semi-arid parts of Kenya use donkeys as beasts of burden to carry loads and pull ploughs.

There are four donkey slaughterhouses in Kenya — Baringo, Naivasha, Turkana and Kithyoko in Machakos County — all with a processing capacity of 1,000 donkeys per day, according to the official Kenya News Agency.