Invisible workers

The economic contribution of working donkeys, horses and mules to livelihoods

Working donkeys, horses and mules are used for commercial and domestic purposes, providing critical support system to households that rely on them. One aspect of the support that they provide is the money that working equids help to generate both directly and indirectly in a range of sectors including agriculture, construction, tourism, mining, and public transport. However, an incomplete understanding of their role means that working donkeys, horses and mules remain neglected or ignored in relevant global, regional and national policy and programming, including livestock.

This research was initiated by Brooke in 2015 with the aim of increasing knowledge of the linkages between working equine welfare and human welfare. It specifically focuses on the economic contributions of working donkeys, horses and mules to household incomes.

Data was collected using the Household Economy Approach (HEA). This methodology was created by Save the Children and was then adapted to include a working equid dimension. Qualitative and quantitative data was collected in Pakistan, India and Kenya.

Key findings

  • Working donkeys, horses and mules generate vital direct disposable income that enables millions of families to access the food they need and to pay for a wide range of expenses.
  • Working equids also provide essential support to households’ main income generation activities particularly in the agriculture sector, for example livestock and dairy production.
  • Working equids enable households to save on expenses by transporting families to the market, hospitals, schools and relatives’ and friends’ homes.
  • There are health and welfare implication for many working equids.


  • Working donkeys, horses and mules should be explicitly included in livestock policy and programmes.
  • Working equids should be more visible in data collection and research. We believe that working equid welfare and human welfare are linked, this link needs further investigation. Greater collaboration and understanding between animal welfare and development stakeholders is needed to foster cross-sectoral and complementary strategies.
  • OIE Member states must adopt OIE standards for the welfare of working equids and show leadership in implementing them.


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