Friday, 17 February 2006

Goats and the news

The Times took up the goat issue, and as a result I was asked to discuss the issue on TV with the International Director of Oxfam. Unfortunately there was not much of a debate, because Caroline Nursey of Oxfam appears to be in denial about the relationship between goats and desertification -- claiming that "There is no connection between goats and desertification". If this really is Oxfam's official position, then the matter is very serious, and they ought to read the website of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). A search on that site of "desertification AND goats" produces over 1750 results. But I hope that was a slip of the tongue -- unfortunate because it was seen by several million viewers.

The trouble with TV and radio is that the debate is always in short, soundbites. One viewer wrote into claim that my criticism of goats was hypocrisy, because we offered consumers the opportunity to buy rainforest. But this is not remotely comparing like with like. One is encouraging people to destroy the environment, while the other is trying to protect it. I did not criticise all the gifts that Oxfam and other agencies offer, only livestock, being used as a means of poverty alleviation. And I am not alone in recognising that in general, the supply of animals, particularly goats to very poor people makes no sense at all -- for a huge range of reasons. And I am far from the first to criticise. Animal Aid have an excellent website, with scathing comments. What has been particularly interesting has been the many letters of support I have received. But more of that next week.

The only reassuring thing about the discussion appears to be that not all the money raised by the various charities selling goats, actually goes on goats -- if you read the small print. And Oxfam stated that not all their goats were involved in poverty alleviation, but were part of other programmes such as conflict resolution.

But Oxfam's claim that goats were good for the locals because were able to cary on feeding in areas so overgrazed by sheep and cattle, that the latter had died in a drought, was a particularly scary concept.

I would suggest that anyone with first-hand experience of goat issues writes to Oxfam.


  1. I think this is a really interesting debate - I can see from Oxfam's fundraising point of view that Goats are good for business - since they provide something tangible for donations to go towards, in much the same way that rainforest acres are a tangible way of raising funds for conservation. However I completely agree with the arguments on desertification - I've seen first hand examples in Morocco where extensive goat grazing has destroyed the local Argan tree (Argania spinosa) - which is the only thing that grows on the borders of the western sahara. The Argan tree provides a useful crop of oil and firewood, and despite being very hardy is easily destroyed by excessive goat grazing. I'd like to see large aid agencies like Oxfam combine humanitarian aid with sustainable conservation - a typical example would be to sponsor Mangrove replanting in South East Asia - healthy Mangroves save lives by reducing the destructive power and impact of tsunamis; then they can have something to 'market' that doesn't damage the environment.

  2. Pete has hit the nail on the head -- and that is why the WLT has a Reef and Mangrove appeal. I visited India in the post-tsunami period, and it was very evident that not only were huge amounts of foreign aid being squandered on lavish inappropriate projects, but that mangrove destruction was a major issue.

  3. Interestingly Oxfam do support Mangrove replanting

    and have trees as an option on their site, but not as prominently as donkeys and goats.