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While many countries saw supermarkets stripped bare of toilet paper at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, AFP reports that in Albania it is donkey milk that has seen a rise in demand.

Touted as rich in vitamins and a boost for the immune system, the high-priced milk has been flying off the shelves during the coronavirus pandemic – a time when many in Albania are looking for an extra health kick.

“The demand for donkey milk is rising sharply” alongside virus infections, says 37-year-old Elton Kikia, the manager of the small farm in the village of Paper, where around a dozen of the small, knobbly-kneed animals romp around a green pasture.

The high demand is good news for the donkeys themselves, whose comfortable lifestyle on the farm is a welcome respite from their traditional roles as beasts of burden.

Typically enlisted to carry heavy loads and pull carts through Albania’s mountainous terrain, donkeys are frequently subject to mistreatment, in the form of beatings, overwork or saddle sores.

“Yet it is a very delicate animal, which to produce its milk needs tenderness and love,” Kikia told AFP.

Two years ago he left his job as a journalist to take over the family farm, which is only one of two in the country to raise donkeys for their milk.

Elton Kikia feeds donkeys in a yard at his family’s dairy farm in the village of Paper, Albania

Elton Kikia feeds donkeys in a yard at his family’s dairy farm in the village of Paper, Albania. Photograph: Gent Shkullaku/AFP/Getty Images

At 50 euros a litre, the price of their milk is exorbitant in a country where the average wage barely reaches 400 euros a month.

But fears around Covid-19 have set off a flurry of interest.

While no one is branding the milk as a cure for the virus, aficionados are convinced its nutritional profile – which is close to human milk – helps strengthen the body’s natural defences.

Klea Ymeri, a student in agro-environmental engineering, recently travelled to Paper to buy two 250ml bottles to help her parents recover from Covid-19.

“On top of the medicines they are taking, donkey’s milk could be a good natural remedy for the respiratory system”, she told AFP.

Donkeys happily munch on hay while customers flock to buy their milk, a niche product winning over those who believe in its health benefits

Donkeys munch on hay as customers flock to buy their milk, a niche product winning over those who believe in its health benefits. Photograph: Gent Shkullaku/AFP/Getty Images

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