Monday, 27 November 2006

Milch cows get my goat.

Just after Christmas 2005 I questioned the advisability of goats, cows and camels being marketed by Oxfam and other aid agencies. After all, a quick search of the internet reveals that goats, sheep and other livestock are one of the main causes of habitat degradation and desertification in Africa. The response from the media was rapid, and I appeared on TV and Radio explaining the problem. Oxfam responded, and indeed said they would be contacting me to discuss the issue in depth. However, not only have they continued to market livestock as an ethical Christmas present, but even more organisations have jumped on the bandwagon. This is truly depressing, since it flies in the face of common sense to promote so called solutions to poverty, that in reality encourages beliefs which are entirely erroneous. If you search the internet using Google for "environmental disaster goats" it comes up with 21,300 results. Search the Oxfam website for "population control" and you get three results; search Oxfam for "goats", and 250 results come up. It says it all.

Last year selling goats as a way of alleviating poverty could have been accepted as an error of judgement. This year it can only be seen as cynical exploitation of the public and misguided philanthropy. When I last wrote about this issue, no one wrote and told me I had got it wrong (apart from a few representatives of organisations doing it, who produced no evidence that would remotely alter my opinion. On the other hand, I had a significant number of responses supporting my views, many of them from very well informed persons, with direct experience of the issues concerned.

Having spent best part of a year pondering the issue, I have begun to question the whole ethos of this type of foreign aid and come up with a new name: it's "guilt colonialism". Those living in the rich northern hemisphere feel guilty about the plight of Africa, and salve their consciences by making token donations to alleviate poverty. However, because it is largely done through western aid agencies, a) much of the funding stays in the developed world's economy, and b) because the solutions are often those of the developed world, the poor of Africa become even more aid dependent. If the aid was truly charitable it would be given to local NGOs, to spend as they thought fit, and you wouldn't need armies of aid workers being sent in to "supervise" and "manage".

The World Land Trust sent out another press release recently, and already papers and other media are taking up the issue. While we are not a campaigning organisation, I do think it very important that all agencies are fully aware of the impact that goats and other grazing animals are having on the already fragile habitats where the poorest people in Africa live. In the decades since much of Africa became independent from Colonial rule, the numbers of hoofed animals, south of the Sahara, has gone from about 275 million to over 655 million - at a time when the areas available for grazing have declined dramatically. Unsurprisingly the numbers of wild grazing animals - most of which are much better adapted to fragile habitats - have declined catastrophically.

So, while we are not a campaigning group, it would be a good idea if anyone else who shares my/our fears, makes their views known, if only by adding to this blog.

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