The Reality of Send-an-Animal Schemes

Since writing about the unsustainability of send-an-animal schemes in the previous Bulletin, the debate has crossed over from the ‘specialist’ press to the mainstream dailies.

Sarah Dunning

Since writing about the unsustainability of send-an-animal schemes in the previous Bulletin, the debate has crossed over from the ʻspecialistʼ press [environmental, animal welfare and one Christian environmentally-aware, namely Tearfund] to the mainstream dailies.

Recapping briefly, for years Animal Aid has been saying how unsustainable ..... and often cruel to the animals ..... these schemes are and their views were recently endorsed by the World Land Trust [WLT]. But then, lo and behold, The Independent [27 November] included a substantial article: “Donʼt Give a Cow [or Goat] for Christmas”! It laid out all the arguments against these schemes, calling animal farming “inefficient, expensive and environmentally destructive”, as well as under-lining the animal welfare aspect: the need for proper food [difficult in arid and desert areas], adequate water [lots of it!], shelter from extremes of weather, and veterinary care [not only costly, but usually unavailable in Africa].

Reference was made to the drought in the Horn of Africa where 80% of cattle died, and good coverage was given to the findings of WLT. Having already called send-an-animal schemes “environmentally unsound and economically disastrous,” WLT denounced their continuation as “grossly irresponsible”. The article encouraged a boycott of the donate-an-animal schemes, advocating instead support to projects “that help people, animals and the environment”. It then mentioned Animal Aidʼs scheme to plant 2,000 fruit trees in Kenyaʼs Rift Valley Province.

Next, on 2 December, an article by John Humphrys appeared in the Daily Mail. Underneath a banner headline “A Goat for Christmas? Who are They Kidding!” there followed “Giving goats to Africaʼs poor, as charities are now urging us, is both ridiculous and ruinous, says John Humphrys”. The Radio 4 Today programme frontman, confessing a dislike of cows, discussed the questionable marketing strategies of charity workers, and the varying degrees of fussiness cows, sheep and goats display over foodstuffs [cows discerning, goats eating anything!] which he dismissed as unviable in the African habitat.

Mr Humphrys has done his homework well! In Africa, he says, “I have seen goats everywhere ..... even in high trees right up in the branches. Unlike cows and sheep, they are not herd animals. They spread out, like marauding armies, in search of anything and everything .............. The goat is not concerned about the delicate ecology of these African lands. It is concerned only with lunch”. He spells out the massive environmental degradation for which goats are responsible and highlights the plight of the Maasai herdsmen and their starving cattle. He also quotes from the research of WLT and Andrew Tyler, director of Animal Aid.

John Humphrysʼ article dwells a little on the working strategies of the charities and, having briefly queried the encouragement of vegetarianism [neatly side-stepping the issue!] and mentioned the degree of corruption in the distribution of aid in Africa, he writes about his own charity to help the “poorest and most vulnerable people in the world” ...... The Kitchen Table Charities Trust [14 Castle Street, Liverpool L2 0NJ].

Incidentally, a note on the Masai people mentioned earlier: several years ago Tear-fund ran a controversial project to suggest to the Masai the advantage of growing crops..... quite an about-turn in their culture. But some did, and now appreciate the freedom from hunger that this project has brought them.

Then, on 10 December, in The Mail on Sunday, came “The Great ʻGive a Goatʼ Delusion: a Special Investigation by Barbara Jones in Lesotho”. She reports that it seems that the optimistic descriptions of goats solving poverty problems of the poor in Africa is not strictly true. The aggressive marketing of livestock by charity workers in the UK does not match up with the reality in Lesotho; The Mail sent their reporter out to investigate. All was not as it was depicted in the catalogues. The people were stillpoor and hungry. The goats gave birth to male,as well as female goats, which didnʼtproduce milk. Fodder was scarce or non-existent. Successive generations of goats fed poorly became weaker and smaller and produced less milk. Their upkeep caused a massive extra workload, and they were often killed and eaten. So much for sustainability!

Barbara Jones quotes the experts: Environmentalist Rory Allardice says, “To say that handing over livestock to people in areas unsuitable for farming is any permanent answer to Africaʼs poverty is, frankly idiotic.” Once again Andrew Tyler and WLT provide damning evidence. The exaggerated claims in the catalogues of Send a Cow, Oxfam, Christian Aid et al may dupe us into parting with our money and give us the feel-good factor but then we, too, become part of the lie.

So now the truth is out in the mainstream press, discussed by mainstream journalists, it is to be hoped that Christmas 2007 will not bring the rash of enticing send-an-animal advertisements that hit the scene this year. We now know it is far better to support modest but ethical HIPPO, run by an experienced agriculturist who is familiar with the African terrain and who knows what he is doing.

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