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    • Abstract: National Urban Planning Institute, PO Box 2405, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia ... part of the people and of the economy of Addis. Ababa depends on donkey transport for the movement of ...

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Sisay Zenebe and Tilahun Fekade
The role of donkey pack-transport in the major grain market of Addis Ababa
The role of donkey pack-transport
ACP-EU Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), Wageningen, The Netherlands. 244p. ISBN 92-9081-219-2. This publication was supported by CTA and Neda, The Netherlands.
in the major grain market of Addis Ababa
This paper is published in: Starkey P and Fielding D (eds), Donkeys, people and development. A resource book of the Animal Traction Network for Eastern and Southern Africa (ATNESA).
by
Sisay Zenebe and Tilahun Fekade
National Urban Planning Institute, PO Box 2405, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Abstract · the sector is wholly dependent on locally
A large part of the people and of the economy of Addis available resources and not on imported
Ababa depends on donkey transport for the movement of technology and foreign exchange
grain from wholesale centres to retail outlets and · its operation is not dependent on the
households. The service is cheap, flexible and readily provision of transport infrastructure
accessible in most parts of the city. It is also an essential
· it has great flexibility and hence high
source of livelihood and income to many households.
For details of ATNESA and its resource publications see http://www.atnesa.org
penetration capacity in areas where
Although the donkey pack-transport service has infrastructure is lacking.
enormous opportunities, the enterprises and the donkeys Donkeys are widely used in both rural and urban
face various constraints. The main problems are related areas of Ethiopia for transporting a wide variety of
to shortage of food, municipal regulations, and items such as grain, flour, sugar, construction
harassment. The donkeys are usually overloaded and materials, sawdust and animal feed. Such transport
suffer from wounds related to overwork. is an important stimulus to trading and also
An increase in the productivity of the enterprises must represents a source of income for the donkey
be sought by improving their access to good food and owners. However, there are certain problems faced
health care. Technological solutions to improve the by the donkey pack-transport operators which are
as follows:
productivity of donkeys using carts might be difficult in
the case of Addis Ababa, particularly in view of the · the shortage of food
settlement pattern in the old settlement parts and the · municipal regulations relating to the
city’s general terrain characteristics. movement and housing of animals.
The importance of the donkey transport service is The objective of the study reported below was to
recognised by the public who are the direct beneficiaries obtain a fuller understanding of the importance of
of the service. Government officials, and planners in donkey pack-transport services in urban areas of
general, tend to see it as an inferior occupation. They Ethiopia by taking as an example the major grain
will not support donkey pack-transport unless they are market in Addis Ababa.
convinced of its economic importance, particularly in The use of a structured questionnaire, while
catering for the demand for transport services in less desirable, was not possible due to limitation of
accessible parts of the city which cannot be served by funds. Thus, the information reported in this study
modern modes of transport. was gathered from the following major sources
using unstructured questionnaires: donkey
Introduction operators, grain traders, consumers, veterinarians,
Tesfahunegne (1989) maintains that in Ethiopia local Kebele offices, local development
the contribution of traditional equine transport to committees, traffic police, etc. The authors’
the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is observations of the grain market, the donkey
underestimated. This author argues that the market and mini-markets in the city, and in
traditional system of transport could be general how the donkey pack-transport business is
appropriate for Ethiopia in the short to medium operated, and the movement of donkeys on streets
term because: and within residential neighbourhoods were also
· the sector’s resource base (the equine important inputs to the study. The scope of the
population) reproduces itself and is not study is limited to the donkey pack-transport of
subject to depreciation grain within the city boundary and is based on
Donkeys, people and development Note: This version of the paper has been specially prepared for the ATNESA website. 69
It may not be identical to the paper appearing in the resource book
Sisay Zenebe and Tilahun Fekade
Yehil Berenda which is the largest wholesale grain donkey operators identify themselves with one of
market in Addis Ababa. these terras, and in general serve specific sections
of the city.
ACP-EU Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), Wageningen, The Netherlands. 244p. ISBN 92-9081-219-2. This publication was supported by CTA and Neda, The Netherlands.
Yehil Berenda of Addis Ababa
The number of donkey operators working in and
The Yehil Berenda of Addis Ababa, which is
This paper is published in: Starkey P and Fielding D (eds), Donkeys, people and development. A resource book of the Animal Traction Network for Eastern and Southern Africa (ATNESA).
around Yehil Berenda is estimated to be between
located near Mercato in ‘Wereda’ 06, ‘Kebele’ 01,
800 and 1200, while those of donkeys is estimated
represents the largest concentration of grain stores,
to be between 2500 and 3500. The total amount of
gain mills, donkey pack-transport operators and
grain transported by donkeys from Yehil Berenda
donkeys in Ethiopia. The volume of grain trade
during the major market days is between 500 and
activity in Yehil Berenda has significantly
700 tonnes per day (estimate for April, 1997).
increased over the last few years as a result of the
Table 1 shows some estimates of the number of
liberalisation of the grain trade. The number of
journeys and volume of produce transported.
donkey operators and donkeys employed in
transporting grain are thus reckoned to have The donkey pack-transport operators
increased during the same period as have the Although the market is the main centre for the
number of trucks. donkey pack-transport service most donkey
A significant proportion of households in the city operators reside in the peripheral parts of the city.
For details of ATNESA and its resource publications see http://www.atnesa.org
buy grain every month in the days that The majority of the donkey operators are
immediately follow their pay day. Thus, the first able-bodied males who perform the loading and
and last weeks of each Ethiopian month are the unloading tasks by themselves. Most are illiterate,
busiest in terms of the volume of transactions in although the educational background of those who
Yehil Berenda and hence in the amount of service recently joined the business is thought to be
provided by the donkey operators. The grain relatively better.
market is normally overcrowded, but traffic The donkey pack-transport business, like many
congestion is the highest during Mondays, other informal activities, has little restriction to
Wednesdays and Fridays due to a very large entry. Many of the new entrants into the business
concentration of freight trucks, cars, people and are ex-soldiers who have lost their jobs as a result
donkeys. There is no separate parking space for of military demobilisation. In comparison to other
freight trucks and donkeys, and the movement of alternative sources of employment eg, working as
traffic within the marketplace is highly daily labourers at construction sites, most donkey
disorganised. operators see the business as a more reliable
There are four terras in the market, namely source of income.
Gesho, Becho, Bono and Shell (in order of their The donkey pack transport of grain from Yehil
importance taking into account the number of Berenda is believed to be expanding. It can even
donkeys), which represent the major gates be considered as a lucrative business, particularly
(departure points) along the four major routes for those who have large number of donkeys and
which lead to the various parts of the city. The regular customers. The activity also provides, for
Table 1: Summary of the economic significance of the donkey pack-transport service
provided from ‘Yehil Berenda’ of Addis Ababa
Amount of Income of
Transport Donkeys grain Daily transport
operators employed transported transactions operators
Estimate (heads) (heads) (tonnes) (Birr) Birr/day
Minimum 800 2500 500 25,000 20
Maximum 1200 3500 700 35,000 50
Average 1000 3000 600 30,000 35
Source: Field observation, interviews with donkey pack-transport operators and leaders of the Donkey
Owners Association.
Note: US$ 1 = 6.3 Birr
Note: This version of the paper has been specially prepared for the ATNESA website.
70 It may not be identical to the paper appearing in the resource book Donkeys, people and development
The role of donkey pack-transport in the major grain market of Addis Ababa
the lucky ones, the opportunity to switch into owners do not hire assistant drovers on a regular
other preferred activities. There are, for example, basis.
ACP-EU Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), Wageningen, The Netherlands. 244p. ISBN 92-9081-219-2. This publication was supported by CTA and Neda, The Netherlands.
some ex-donkey operators who have now Donkeys are said to be more resistant to diseases
established themselves as grain traders, minibus than other domestic animals (eg, crossbred cattle).
This paper is published in: Starkey P and Fielding D (eds), Donkeys, people and development. A resource book of the Animal Traction Network for Eastern and Southern Africa (ATNESA).
taxi or mini-truck operators. Donkey operators, who also employ traditional
The donkey pack-transport business treatments, did not mention veterinary costs as an
important expenditure item in their operation.
The donkey operators keep, on average, between
two and five donkeys. There are obvious Donkey operators normally start to arrive at Yehil
management problems in keeping a larger number Berenda with their donkeys at 5.30 am. The
of donkeys: feeding, in particular, is very donkeys have to be returned before it gets dark as
expensive. Virtually all the pack donkeys are their sight is impaired during the night. Donkeys
males. Female donkeys cannot be worked when cannot be worked during the night as the
pregnant and keeping them in the city is not headlights of automobiles (and municipal road
profitable. The average carrying capacity of the lighting) confuse them, and their effective time of
donkeys employed in transporting grain is one operation is a 12 hour period between 6.00 am and
quintal (100 kg), and the maximum working life 6.00 pm.
For details of ATNESA and its resource publications see http://www.atnesa.org
of a donkey is estimated to be five years. Most of the grain transactions take place early in
The major cost of starting a donkey pack-transport the morning, and the donkey operators first
business is investment in donkeys. The average assemble the sacks of grain which they have
price of donkeys is between Birr 350 and 450 agreed to transport. They pile them in a certain
(US$ 55-70). Other start-up costs include straps corner and start the dispatching work after 9.00
(Birr 18, US$ 3), packsaddle (Birr 15, US$ 2) and am when the market is quietening down. This
whip (Birr 3). Housing for donkeys is rarely makes it easy to decide if they have to hire
constructed as, in most cases, they are simply tied donkeys from other transport operators or if they
to a pole inside the owner’s compound. can rent some of their donkeys to others. It also
helps them in selecting the routes they should
Most of the donkeys used in the city are imported follow while dispatching the grain and in deciding
from other places within Shoa Region. There is a about the use of assistant drovers, depending upon
specialised donkey market in ‘Shola Gebeya’, the addresses of the consignees.
while other nearby markets where donkeys are
The donkey operators may complete two to three
available for sale are Sebeta and Akaki. During
round trips in a working day, depending upon the
purchase the age of donkeys is determined by
number of donkeys at their disposal, the number
evaluating their general body condition, and the
of quintals for transport, and the distance of the
state of their teeth and hooves.
destinations. It is worth noting, that the donkey


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