In October, the Union ministry of fisheries, animal husbandry and dairying asked the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) to find a way to promote donkey milk. The idea was to boost conservation efforts, the ministry said. In doing so, it also wanted to capitalize on the surge of interest in donkey milk and its products in India.
As it turns out, donkey milk is a hit in European countries like Albania too. “Customers flock to scoop up bottles of their milk, a niche product winning fans who believe in its health benefits," the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported last week. "Touted as rich in vitamins and a boost for the immune system, the high-priced milk has been flying off the shelf during the coronavirus pandemic -- a time when many in Albania are looking for an extra health kick."
In Tirana, the capital of Albania, a litre of donkey milk is sold for 50 euros (around ₹4,500). It has found many takers as buyers believe it fortifies health for its nutritional profile is similar to human milk. The demand has risen to such an extent that the owners of the donkey farm are unable to meet it.
The surge of interest in donkey milk in Albania is hoped to have a similar outcome as that intended in India: protection of donkey species whose population is on a steady decline. The ministry's directive came only two months after the National Research Centre on Equines (NRCE) bought Halari donkeys from Gujarat for research. The NRCE aims to start a donkey dairy at their headquarters in Hisar, Haryana. Halari donkeys are on the verge of extinction and there is hope that the interest in their milk will save the species. Reportedly, the milk would be sold at ₹7,000 a litre, almost one-third higher than the price in Europe. The exorbitant rates are due to low supply.
There’s donkey cheese too. Known as Pule and sold at about ₹ 8400 thousand per kilogram, it is considered to be the most expensive cheese in the world. It is made by a man named Slobodan Simic in Serbia. A few years ago, tennis star Novak Djokovic was rumoured to have bought the complete cheese stock for self-consumption and to serve at the restaurants he runs in Serbia, Peru and China.
The founder of India’s first camel-milk products company Aadvik Foods, Hitesh Rathi too is reportedly planning to enter the sector. Most likely, he will sell donkey milk in powdered form and market it as a product for children and those who are lactose-intolerant.