ARUSHA, Tanzania, Authorities in central Tanzania have embarked on a campaign to encourage farmers to raise more donkeys to tap the Asian market.

Apart from meat, donkey skins are used to produce gelatin that is traded as a traditional medicine and beauty product in Asian nations like China.

In Tanzania, the number of working donkeys is estimated at about 250,000.

"Time has come for Tanzanian farmers to view donkey as an economic venture, rather than viewing it as a working animal," said Osumo Kipisi, a legal officer in charge of livestock in Tanzania's capital Dodoma.

Kipisi said the local farmers, who have been concentrating on rearing cattle and goats, were not well prepared in the face of the rising demands of donkeys.

"Donkey meat was not something important in the past as people used to keep the animal for carrying cargoes and farming. But, now things have changed. Farmers need to start venturing into rearing the animals because the market is already there," the official said.

He suggested the need for farmers to put in place better rearing environment that will increase the number of donkeys.

Reports show that a Dodoma-based donkey abattoir slaughters between 150 and 200 donkeys per day and exports meat to China and Turkey.

At the abattoir, the price can go up to 200 U.S. dollars per donkey.

Hidaya Maheda, acting Dodoma Municipal Director, said they were carrying out a serious campaign to encourage people to chip-in and rear more donkeys.

"Our role as authorities is show farmers opportunities. We're encouraging farmers to look donkey into economic perspective rather than looking it as an ordinary animal," Maheda said.

"It is also high time for farmers to start providing the best welfare for fit healthy donkeys to meet their expectations," the official said.

Johnson Lyimo, who works with the Arusha-based Meru Animal Welfare Organization (MAWO), said: "We have been using different platforms including community-based radios to tell community on the importance of keeping donkeys in secured places with all important animal welfare practices."

"This is because a large number of the animals have been stolen from pastoralist communities of Maasai in Manyara and Arusha regions because people weren't taking the animals very serious as they do to cattle and goats," Lyimo said.

In Tanzania, one of the most important problems in promoting donkeys is the lack of knowledge about their socio-economic status, husbandry and health needs.

An estimated 39 million donkeys live in the developing world and 36 percent of this number is found in Africa including Tanzania.