Friday, 16 November 2007

The Goat and Cow season is upon us

My attacks on the misguided philanthropy that involves 'sending' cows, goats and other domestic animals to Africa, has had an impact. One very positive outcome has been that Oxfam entered a dialogue with the World Land Trust, and recently assured me that they were starting to undertake Environmental Impact Assessments for their projects. This is clearly a good thing, as it appears that Christian Aid, Send a Cow and many of the others are still not carrying out EIAs. All they seem to do is produce statements from the recipients saying how grateful they are. Well they would, wouldn't they?

My criticisms were very fundamental: overgrazing by domestic animals is one of the most significant causes of habitat degradation in Africa, and hence one of the causes of poverty. The numbers (published by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation -- FAO) speak for themselves. And the published literature on the subject is vast. In the past, whole cultures have disappeared as a result of desertification, in which goats are known to have played a significant role.

But beyond this basic flaw in the arguments for promoting programmes that increase the numbers of livestock in Africa, there are other issues which never seem to be openly addressed. In many parts of Africa, animals are a form of wealth and are often accumulated in numbers way above that needed for sustenance; indeed, animals such as camels, are often status symbols. Whenever there is a drought, (and as everyone knows, these are far from infrequent), hundreds of thousands of goats, sheep, cattle and other livestock, die. Each time there is a drought the numbers dieing increases, simply because more and more animals are being kept, with less and less pasture for them. From a wildlife perspective this is even more disastrous, because the domestic livestock are usually in direct competition with the wild antelope and other grazing animals. But whereas the wild animals are often adapted to cycles of drought, and each species has its own niche, the domestic animals simply turn the landscape to desert.

Of course the philanthropic organisations encouraging poor Africans to keep even more livestock are able to demonstrate that a few of the animals they distribute do no harm, but it is the fundamental principle that I am attacking: more livestock is not a solution to poverty in Africa. It is also a form of Aid Imperialism, often making the recipients dependent on imported veterinary supplies, and potentially creating welfare problems, as many of the animals will be kept in conditions that would not be tolerated by those donating the funds.

But perhaps the most bizarre response came from the International Director of Christian Aid, who seemed to imply that I should not criticise them because we were both charities, and it harmed all charities if I criticised them. The reality, of course was very different; last year we received overwhelming support for our stance against increasing livestock in Africa, with virtually no criticism at all. In fact it is almost impossible to find a conservation scientist who does not believe that the overpopulation of both humans and their domestic stock, is the single most serious cause of poverty in Africa.

Until aid agencies tackle these problems head on, there is little hope for either poverty-stricken humans or wildlife.

1 comment:

  1. I`m a suporter of Animal Aid, who are once more wanting people to protest against charities which send cows, goats, etc. to Africa. I`d like WLT`s latest briefing on the subject but they refer me to your site.

    What is WLT`s stance now ?
    What is your stance now ?
    How do I deal with the objection that there may be areas where nothing except grazing plants will grow, so if Africans want food from that area they`ve got to have grazing animals ?

    I must confess I`m an infant with these machines and don`t understand your headings under "select profile ".