Donkey abattoir proprietor bares all
Claims to have a system to ensure replenishment of donkey population
> Lovemore Ranga Mataire recently in Bulawayo
The proprietor of the first donkey abattoir in Zimbabwe, Gareth Lumsden, says plans to start slaughtering donkeys and processing the meat for the Asian market are being stalled by certain outstanding issues needing clearance by authorities.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Southern Times, Lumsden who is the managing director of the Bulawayo-based Battlefront Investments, said wide consultations were carried out with local community leaders before the construction of the state-of-art specialised abattoir.
“I did my homework. I consulted chiefs, community leaders and obtained the relevant licences from the local council needed for the operation of such an abattoir. I applied to build an abattoir, which was registered as a multipurpose abattoir,” said Lumsden.
But how did the idea of a donkey abattoir come about?
The soft-spoken Lumsden said the idea came after being approached by a group of Chinese, who were prospecting for an abattoir that could facilitate the slaughter and export of donkey meat to China.
“I told them it was not possible for me to have the same abattoir slaughtering donkeys but may need to build a separate one. Fortunately, I already had plans to build another abattoir which was to be registered as a multipurpose abattoir. I put some figures together for them (Chinese) and they said it’s fine let’s go ahead with the project,” Lumsden said.
Lumsden said his project is a victim of gross misinterpretation and misunderstanding. He strongly believes that given a chance, he would be able to properly explain how the project will operate, including putting in place systems that will ensure the continued regeneration of donkey population in the country.
He said the project took into account the cultural sensibilities of local people and with the aid of relevant authorities, will ensure that the meat will never find its way onto the local market.
Although Deputy Agriculture and Mechanisation Minister responsible for livestock production Paddy Zhanda seemed to have consented to the abattoir’s operations after a site tour, some lobby groups are insisting that the project must not be allowed to take off.
The lobbyists have said the setting up of a donkey abattoir is illegal and an act of cruelty to animals.
The Veterinarians Animals Welfare, Zimbabwe National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Lupane Development Trust and Aware Trust Zimbabwe are some of the organisations that have raised concerns over the abattoir.
In a recent joint statement, the lobbyists stated that no provision currently exist for equids to be slaughtered for human consumption.
They further argued that apart from the donkeys destined for slaughter, there will be additional workload placed upon the remaining donkeys.
However, Lumsden is of the opinion that the concerns from the animal welfare lobbyists were coming from people with no clear understanding of how the abattoir is going to operate.
“They (lobbyists) need to be in the know. They need to understand what this project is about. One of the fears that those guys are lobbying against is the extinction of donkeys in Zimbabwe.
They are saying if we look at other African countries that have had this particular project we can see that it’s not a very good project.
“However, I don’t think that those countries have put in place practices that are conducive for the longevity of donkeys whereas we have a system in place and we will be practising that system,” Lumsden said.
And what is this system that will ensure the longevity of donkeys?
Giving a breakdown of what his abattoir will do to allay fears of extinction of the donkeys, Lumsden said given that the estimated donkey population is around 300,000, it can logically be assumed that half of the donkeys may be females while the other are males.
Of the 150,000 females, Lumsden said half could be breeding while the other half is not. The other 75,000 are either too old or too young to breed. If you take half of that, it means 75,000 can be taken off per year. Lumsden said his abattoir will only take off between 12,000-14,000 donkeys per year and he believes that this process will not lead to any extinction but will instead encourage people to give much care to the donkeys than before.
“My door is open for a conversation with any lobbyists who have fears about the project.
We can sit down, we can talk, we can do this thing together and I believe I am giving them the means to get out to the people as well.”
Lumsden said the company had no plans to import donkeys from Namibia or Botswana where there is a huge population of donkeys, as there were enough donkeys in the country to meet the needs of the targeted Asian market. Unlike beef, which has different cuts, donkey meat will be ungraded with everything from the head to the hooves being exported including the hides.
Besides the project’s massive potential in generating much-needed foreign currency, Lumsden believes the abattoir will also create employment for the local community.
But many would want to know who this Gareth Lumsden who has risen to fame overnight for initiating the first donkey abattoir in Zimbabwe?
“I was born in Kadoma and later came to Bulawayo with my family. I was born in 1973 and came to Bulawayo in 1974. My family went to South Africa after independence. I was in South Africa until when I was 13 and came back to Bulawayo with my mother. I went to Milton High but didn’t finish school because I am not that kind of guy,” Lumsden opened up. He said he later went to Nyanga to stay with an aunt who had a cattle ranching business.
The young Lumsden came back to Bulawayo and worked for a man who was in the meat industry and after eight years decided to start his own business.
Lumsden said he started by importing meat from Brazil for resell in Zimbabwe because the beef from that country is very cheap.
Over the years, Lumsden managed to buy about 35 acres of land just outside Bulawayo where he rears cattle, pigs, chickens and goats and has also built an abattoir on the property.
Battlefront Investments employs at least 80 permanent employees.