Friday, 25 November 2005

Getting my goat

Put your head around these statistics. In 1965, at a time when states were becoming independent, there were some 95 million goats in the developing countries of Africa (FAO statistics), and relatively little poverty. By 2004 , with poverty widespread, there were some 225 million goats; that's nearly two and a half times as many. Is there a connection? And if so why are Oxfam, Farm Africa and other charities suggesting increasing the goat population?

In fact the increase is not uniform, and in some countries the goat population has actually declined. But a detailed look shows that those countries that have seen the largest increases in goats are also among those where poverty is rife. Zimbabwe's rose from 700,000 to nearly 3 million, Sudan from 6.8 million to a massive 42 million. And in Mauritania, which is one of the countries least suitable for massive goat populations, the goat population has doubled from 2.7 to 5.6 million. A quick glance at any other statistics shows that desertification increased, human populations increased, and in general it would be safe to say that quality of life decreased for large numbers of people.

Conservationists have known for as far back as I can remember (and that's over 50 years) that goats are a major cause of environmental degradation, particularly in arid climates. So why are charities advocating and subsidising a massive increase in an already disastrously high goat population? It is surely an extreme example of a short-term, quick-fix, to make a load of donors feel good for Xmas, but funding a long term environmental disaster which is looming around the corner.

I quote the text from Oxfam:
No if's or butts a goat is a great gift. Even the kids can get involved. You start with one and end up with a herd. They can then be sold to raise cash for school fees, or tools and start to reduce poverty. Best of all, the first female kid is given to another family and the process starts all over again. So why not invest in a goat?
How this gift helps
"As for the goats we received from Oxfam...I consider them a gift from the sky. Giving animals to people like us is very important. It gave me confidence and increased my family'’s security because we now had assets." Aiche Mint Imizine, Mauritania

Nowhere on the site is any indication as to what these goats will feed on. Or when this boom in goats will be halted. YOU START WITH ONE AND END UP WITH A HERD!

And you start with a fragile ecosystem in subsahelian Africa and end up with a desert.

I would emphasise, this is a personal opinion, but I have heard so many friends and colleagues express horror at the idea of even more goats in Africa, felt I had to write something.

Finally, I recommend that my readers also go to the Shell Foundation website, and read Kurt Hoffman's writings.


  1. Well written about the goat problem!I was wondering if I was the only person on the planet who thought this!I wrote to Oxfam last Xmas about my view of this and got a bland reply.I`d also suggested that charities like Oxfam should be looking for sustainable ways of producing food in semi-intensive ways eg Mopane moth breeding,lizard/snake breeding using kitchen scraps.I`d also suggested that investment should go into using solar technology to have solar cookers thus reducing the need for so much firewood collection.
    I note as well that goats are the biggest selling product that people are buying....conspiracy theorists could think that it`s another way for the First World to hold the Third World in thrall but it`s good,old-fashioned ignorance!

  2. I agree. It's a marvellously attractive scheme - simple, easy to achieve, excellent feel-good factor of doing something worthwhile for individual people. If only it was not so disastrous!

    However, I fear that the best form of aid gift for long-term sustainability - packets of condoms - would not have the same appeal to donors or recipients!

  3. Anna Blankenship16 April 2007 at 22:33

    your entire take on this is wrong. you seem to place the blame of a continent-wide problem on a livestock animal. that's ridiculous. poverty in africa was and is caused by rampant war and societal unrest. you don't even clearly point out a logical link of a goat to poverty, all you do is say "look at these numbers. isn't that suspicious." most people today should know that's not a legitimate answer.

    so for very little effort goats provide much needed resources for the starving african people with insignifigant damage to other resources. and if they breed out of control you can slaughter them for meat and feed the starving african people. they are easy to raise and perfect for the small isolated villages suffering in africa right now.

    Far from exacerbating the problem in africa goats could help. that's why organizations like oxfam are trying to increase their numbers. goats provide a healthy and bountiful supply of milk, fur, and eventually meat and skins. they're not being sent over there just to distract africans from their situation by looking cute. and they're very easy to feed. they graze on their own and mainly eat weeds and woody plants rather than crops and they don't compete for food supplies of other livestock like cattle.

    don't be so freakin jumpy because a few numbers happen to correspond. THINK about it. research it. look for a logical connection. and stop creating problems where there isn't one. especially when in trying to solve it you hurt another.

  4. This is the first response out of many, that actually seems to support more goats in Africa

    Ms Blakenship, unfortunately reflects the simplistic thinking that is so dangerous. As she states about goats :"... they graze on their own and mainly eat weeds and woody plants rather than crops and they don't compete for food supplies of other livestock like cattle."

    Or to put it another way, they eat just about anything green and living that most domestic livestock can't or wont eat, -- leading to desertification.

    And to state that poverty is caused by war, is, apart from stating the obvious, using facts selectively, since war requires armaments which require wealth. War, like poverty is often caused by inequalities of wealth, and inequality of access to resources.

    Finally I have never put the entire blame on goats.There are plenty of other factors that cause poverty in Africa.

    A large part of the blame, in my view, should go to aid agencies that do not bother to consider the long term environmental impacts of their short term interventions. Ask any of the aid agencies for copies of their environmental impact assessments for a particular project and you will find out what I mean. [Environmental impact assessments do not exist for most of the aid projects in Africa managed by NGOs]