released November 14, 2020
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More farmers have abandoned the use of donkeys in agricultural production in favor of machines in rural reas. Xinhua
TAIYUAN-Should he sell his donkey at a low price or bear the cost of keeping it as a "pet"? Chinese farmer Ma Hongyi is facing a dilemma.
There are fewer than 10 donkeys remaining in Dongping village where Ma lives in Shanxi province, and all of their owners are facing the same situation.
Donkeys used to be the backbone of agricultural production in Dongping village, home to 190-plus residents who each have farming land of about 2 hectares.
In Ma's childhood, his family often went hungry. Yet however tight things got, they always managed to save food for their donkey to keep it strong enough for work.
"We didn't have agricultural machinery in the past. Our donkey was the backbone of our family," Ma said. "It worked all year round, from plowing to carrying small loads. If it got sick, our rice yield would be reduced."
The donkey's appeal as a working animal has waned in modern times, especially after 2004 when the government launched a program to help farmers buy agricultural machinery to boost the country's grain output.
Dongping is one of the villages who abandoned the use of donkeys in agricultural production in favor of machines.
Donkey dealer Li Zhiyin said it is not easy to buy donkeys from farmers now, as few of the animals are kept.
China's donkey population dropped to around 2.53 million last year from 11.8 million in 1952, official data showed.
The number of agricultural machines and tools was 200 million last year, while the country had fewer than 2,000 tractors in 1952.
Seven years ago, Ma purchased a tractor, a rotary cultivator and a seed-planting machine.
"The tractor can plow 40 mu (2.67 hectares) of field each day, almost 20 times faster than a donkey," Ma said. His family has also given up using donkeys as pack animals as Dongping village is covered by a logistics service.
"Besides the high cost of fodder and shed maintenance, the surrounding environment is not suitable to raise a donkey," Ma's wife Liang Xiurong said.
In 2016, the couple moved from a cave dwelling, or yaodong, to a new brick house. The village started developing daylily and grape growing industries in 2017. Now, it is exploring the tourism sector, investing more than 6 million yuan ($857,000) to improve its environment.
In Guangling county in the city of Datong, donkey breeding has long been a local tradition. Now the county's donkey population has dropped to under 3,000 from 17,000 at its peak.
The county government has to pay annual subsidies of 500 yuan for each donkey to encourage breeders to expand the size of their herd.
Zhang Lixin, who has 120 donkeys, said using them as plow animals had little economic value. "I plan to explore the more profitable meat-processing industry in the future."