Tuesday, 31 October 2006

The Goat season approaches

Despite my criticisms, and the general failure of aid agencies to address the issues adequately, it seems more and more charities are jumping on the 'goats for Africa' bandwagon.

But before buying a goat for Christmas have a look at http://pubs.usgs.gov/gip/deserts/desertification/

And not only goats. All manner of livestock. Including camels. And this is despite the fact that livestock, particularly cattle and camels are often simply status symbols. And as the website quoted above shows, in areas prone to drought, when a drought comes along, there is wholesale death and destruction of livestock. I am not saying that in some cases livestock are not a good thing in Africa, but in many many cases, goats and other livestock are a cause of poverty, not a solution. It is irresposible for aid agencies to continue to promote them as a solution. Any schoolkid logging on to the internet in Kenya or other parts of Africa will get a very wrong message.

Oxfam claims to have provided 700,000 goats to Africa in the past three years, according to an interview in the Guardian of 18 October. I don't know how many that has now grown to, but using the fact that (according to Oxfam's publicity) the goats are meant to breed, that means there's now an extra million or two goats running around eating everything they can. The Oxfam Unwrapped Team claim, to counter claims that the animals were being bred for slaughter, on their website state that the goats are "not slaughtered for meat" but only used for their milk. But what happens to all the little billy goat kids? Around 50% of the goats will not produce milk.

Other aid charities claim that they are using 'improved' European breeds of cattle and other livestock -- but don't specify how these 'improved' breeds benefit a society which generally measures wealth by numbers, not quality of livestock. In fact all the aid agencies fail to address this fundamental issue -- in most parts of Africa, livestock = wealth. So giving the poorest members of society goats can also severely disrupt the social structures. Like so much of foreign aid it is another form of aid imperialism. Telling people we know what's best for them, and making them aid dependent. Aid has been pouring into Africa for 30 or 40 years or more, and the situation in most places is significantly worse than at the time the colonial era ended in the 1960s. Is there a connection? I certainly think so. I am not against aid per se, but the way it is disbursed is often demonstrably wrong, ineffective and disempowering. I would also argue that it is often financially inefficient -- though this is difficult to ascertain, as it is difficult, if not impossible to disentangle from the accounts of the organisations involved.

And a new book, The White Man's Burden, by William Easterly, a Fellow at the Center for Global Development, argues this case very cogently, according to the reviews I have read -- though I have mot yet been able to get a copy.

To reiterate the figures: Sub Saharan Africa has seen its goat population go from a mere 77,600,000 in 1961 to 211,000,000 by 2005. And Oxfam are helping it grow even faster as a quote from their website shows:

"Oxfam gave me three goats - I did not have any goats at all before. My goats later started to multiply and after two years I gave three goats to my neighbour...At some point I sold 5 goats ... I am now left with 5 goats, of which 2 are also already pregnant." Wilma Mura, a widow in Karika, Sudan

Andrew Tyler of Animal Aid, has published some very cogent arguements against the use of animals in subSaharan Africa, from the welfare point of view, and also pointed out that a newly lactating cow needs about 90 litres of water a day..... Visit his website for more arguments against sending animals to Africa this Christmas.

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