China is on a mission to save donkeys around the world to ensure a steady supply of the animal's hide for producing a traditional Chinese medicine called ejiao, which has been around for thousands of years and has become an increasingly hot commodity given its health benefits.
The Chinese government has lowered the tariff on imported donkey hides to cut costs for companies and supported their endeavors in promoting donkey breeding at home and abroad.
Industry experts said such efforts are conducive to protecting the animal from becoming endangered, a risk that has been largely blamed on rising Chinese demand, while ensuring steady supply of donkey hides. The hides are used to produce gelatinized ejiao that could be used to treat health issues such as anemia and other ailments.
On Monday, China officially lowered the import tariff on donkey hides from 5 percent to 2 percent, according to a tariff adjustment plan for 2018 published by the General Administration of Customs.
The move could save companies millions of yuan in importing donkey hides, according to media reports.
Just for Dong'e Ejiao Co, China's largest donkey-hide gelatin producer, the lower tariff could save the company import costs of more than 6 million yuan (8,250) each year, a spokesperson for the company told the Global Times on Tuesday.
"Don't take these number just on face value. These are actual savings … it will help us to ensure quality ejiao production and address our problem of high tariffs on donkey hides," the spokesperson said in a statement.
The spokesperson pointed out that the demand for ejiao has expanded exponentially in recent years, buoyed by an increasingly health-sensitive and aging Chinese population, which in turn drove up demand for donkey hides to a point that exceeded domestic supply. In 2016 alone, China had to import 3.5 million donkey hides, according to the statement.
Facing rising demand for ejiao amid a shortage of supplies, many have resorted to illegal measures, including smuggling donkey hides from Africa and elsewhere, while others have cheated consumers by using other animal hides rather than those of donkeys, according to media reports.
The lower tariff could be conducive to reducing such illegal activities by cutting costs, industry experts have said. However, the main solution should be finding a sustainable way to ensure donkey hide supplies, according to the Dong'e Ejiao Co spokesperson.
Dong'e Ejiao has been investing heavily in establishing donkey breeding facilities in East China's Shandong Province, where the company is based.
Qin Yufeng, president of Dong'e Ejiao, said that the company has invested 200 million yuan in recent years to set up 100 facilities in Liaocheng, Shandong for donkey breeding, according to a statement published on October 11 on the company's website.
Breeding donkeys is a tough business that requires long-term investment and produces low return, which has contributed to the decline in the donkey population. To address this issue, Dong'e Ejiao and the Shandong provincial government have worked together to offer subsidies for farmers who choose to raise donkeys, as a part of national effort to alleviate poverty, according to a statement from the National Donkey Industry Technology Innovation Strategy Alliance, an industry group that focuses on the ejiao industry.
The Shandong provincial government has set a goal of increasing the number of donkeys in the province from 112,000 to 500,000 by 2020, the industry group said in a statement on December 26.
Dong'e Ejiao is also investing in donkey breeding facilities in other parts of the country such as Northwest China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and even other countries such as Australia and Italy, according to media reports.
At an August international conference on donkeys, which was organized by Dong'e Ejiao, the company announced that it would set up a million innovation fund in the next five years to drive technological innovation in the donkey industry, according to a company statement.
"Rather than going around the world to look for donkey hides, we should focus on self-sufficiency," Qin said at the conference, adding the company would be self-sufficient in donkey hide supplies by 2020.