(at least as well as livestock gift charities)
The 2015 holiday giving season is here. Predictably as plastic replicas of Santa Claus’ reindeer appearing on Sunbelt rooftops where no snow ever falls, livestock gift charities including World Vision, Oxfam, and the original, Heifer International, are saturating mass media with appeals to donors to subsidize distributing cattle, goats, poultry, and even rabbits to poor families in the developing world, in the name of alleviating chronic hunger and poverty.
Equally predictably, livestock charity gift appeals make no mention that the world’s poorest, hungriest regions tend to be places where excessive economic reliance on animal husbandry has already depleted scarce water and topsoil until it can no longer support even the herds and flocks that lived there before the livestock gift charities were founded.
Failed animal programs help to feed ISIS
Even more predictably, this year’s livestock charity gift appeals make no mention that decades of failed animal husbandry expansion programs have contributed to the hopeless anger causing thousands of young men in North Africa, in particular, to join ISIS, also called the Daesh, seizing Syrian and Iraqi oil fields and waging bloody war against anyone even dimly suspected of representing the developed world.
To over-blame livestock gift charities for ISIS/Daesh would be simplistic; but the livestock gift charity approach is symptomatic of the greater problem.
Even more symptomatic is the hostility of many U.S. voters to recognizing and responding to the effects of global warming in dry nations which have become markedly dryer over the past half century, and the tendency of the U.S. government to try to buy stability in the dry parts of the world by arming and defending dictatorships until nation after nation explodes into civil war.
Most Africa & Asia critically need water
The bottom line, though, is that the single commodity the poorest, driest parts of the world need most is not oil, arms, meat, money, nor even greatest supplies of edible grains, improved education, and accessible health care.
Rather, most of Africa and Asia critically need more water, without which no aid programs of any kind can succeed.
Realistically, there is not a lot that the average American or European voter and donor can do to quickly rectify many years of foreign mistakes, or to reverse the effects of global warming.
Avoid making bad situations worse
Yet there is a great deal that Americans and Europeans can do to avoid making bad situations worse, beginning with turning away from livestock gift charities to fund instead the anti-hunger and anti-poverty programs that do the least harm while bringing the best results, including the results least likely to infuriate young men into taking up arms.
In general, these will also be the programs that do the most to protect or develop access to water. Water is needed to increase food production, improve sanitation, and to increase the educational opportunities for woman and children whose lives are now often spent, in large part, carrying water for livestock.
Increasing the numbers of livestock in need of water is working backward, intensifying rather than alleviating need.
Donors tempted by the appeals of livestock gift charities might begin researching their holiday giving at the independent charity monitoring web site www.GiveWell.org.
Advises GiveWell.org, “We have found very little information on the past or likely future impact of livestock gift programs.
“We have argued that distributing livestock may bring many of the same challenges as directly distributing cash, while also bringing additional challenges.
“When examining organizations implementing livestock-distribution programs, we feel it is appropriate to ask the following questions,” which GiveWell.org notes that none of the prominent livestock gift charities have adequately answered.
- Are the livestock in good health? Will they meet recipients’ expectations, or will they die or underproduce, potentially causing people to make bad plans and investments?
- Do the recipients of livestock gifts have the ability, in terms of knowledge and resources, to take care of the livestock well?
- Do the recipients of livestock intend to take care of the livestock well? Or is there reason to be concerned that gifts of livestock could lead to cruelty to animals?
- Are gifts successfully targeting those in need within a community? Is there a risk of fostering jealousy and/or economic instability?
- Are there other consequences of introducing large numbers of livestock into a community?
- Might recipients benefit more from different valuable gifts, such as cash?
Meeting human needs
While some of the concerns of GiveWell.org coincide with the concerns of animal advocates, of note is that the charities GiveWell.org most strongly recommend are all focused on meeting human needs.
Among those charities are the Against Malaria Foundation, GiveDirectly, the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative, the Deworm the World Initiative, Development Media International, the Iodine Global Network, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, and Living Goods.
Six of the eight charities recommended by GiveWell.org focus directly on improving the safety of water supplies by combatting ubiquitous aquatic parasites and introducing salt iodization programs to developing countries, since iodine deficiency, harms cognitive development.
More animals won’t help to meet goals
None of the eight charities recommended by GiveWell.org have goals which could be met even indirectly by expanding animal husbandry. But decreasing contamination of water sources by livestock might help markedly to reduce human exposure to parasites, including the mosquitoes carrying malaria and other mosquito-borne deadly diseases.
Some of those diseases, like Japanese encephalitis, are transmitted exclusively by mosquitoes who reproduce only in animal effluent.
A Well-Fed World
Dawn Moncrief, executive director of the Washington D.C.-based charity A Well-Fed World, offers additional criticisms of livestock gift charities from her perspective as a longtime vegan and, previously, eight years as executive director of the Farm Animal Rights Movement.
“While animal-giving programs seem to focus on small-scale farming,” Moncrief writes, “they have extremely large-scale implications that pave the way for factory farming, and exponentially increase consumption of meat, dairy and eggs throughout entire countries and beyond. For example, Heifer International is largely considered responsible for kick-off of industrialized dairy in Japan after World War II. Heifer International boasts that their projects produced 3.6 million gallons of milk in one year in Uganda, and developed a national dairy program in Tanzania. These massive programs were developed despite the fact that 90% of Asian and African populations are lactose intolerant.”
Food Choice & Sustainability
Further, Moncrief points out, “More farmed animals do not equate to less hunger,” especially when “sustainable plant crops that actually provide better nutrition and more income are often overlooked. In his 2013 book Comfortably Unaware: Food Choice and Sustainability, Richard Oppenlander writes: ‘In Ethiopia, over 40 percent of the population is considered hungry or starving, yet the country has 50 million cattle (one of the largest herds in the world), as well as almost 50 million sheep and goats, and 35 million chickens, unnecessarily consuming the food, land and water… [P]oorly managed cattle grazing has caused severe overgrazing, deforestation, and then subsequent erosion and eventual desertification. Much of their resource use must be focused on these cattle. Instead of using their food, water, topsoil, and massive amounts of land and energy to raise livestock, Ethiopia could grow [more] teff, an ancient and quite nutritious grain grown in that country for the past 20,000 to 30,000 years. Teff…is high in protein, with an excellent amino acid profile, is high in fiber and calcium (a cup of teff provides more calcium than a cup of milk), and is a rich source of boron, copper, phosphorus, zinc, and iron.’”
High yield potential
Continues Oppenlander, “Seventy percent of all Ethiopia’s cattle are raised pastorally in the highlands of their country, where less than 100 pounds of meat and a few gallons of milk are produced per acre of land used. Researchers have found that teff can be grown in those same areas by the same farmers at a yield of 2,000 to 3,000 pounds per acre, with more sustainable growing techniques employed and no water irrigation. Teff has been shown to grow well in water-stressed areas and it is pest-resistant.”
Responding to criticism that promoting animal agriculture in regions already plagued by desertification and drought is irresponsible, Heifer International and several other livestock gift charities now require that livestock gift recipients practice “zero grazing,” which is just factory-style intensive confinement husbandry on a very small scale.
What “zero grazing” really means that confined animals must have food and water carried to them. Not only are the confined animals fed and watered in competition with human needs, but more labor is required from the woman and children who tend to do most of the feeding, watering, and carrying.
Six cents a day
Responding to such criticisms, livestock development charity advocates have made much of a 10,000-household survey study published by Yale University economist Dean Karlan in May 2015 in the journal Science.
Reviewing the effects of livestock gift charities in in Ethiopia, Ghana, Honduras, India, Pakistan, and Peru, Karlan found that over a year’s time the recipients of livestock gifts enjoyed about a 5% increase in combined family income and food consumption, or from a value of less than $1.25 per day to about $1.31 per day.
But the appearance of a gain might be offset by inflation. The study duration, just a year, left little opportunity to see real before-and-after effects. And the study did not look at longterm community impacts on resources, such as pasture and access to water. What might work for one or two families in a village, for instance, might be catastrophic if the whole village were to do the same thing.
Editorialized World Land Trust chief executive John Burton in 2011, “A charity comparison site lists no fewer than eight charities selling goats as a form of poverty relief, as presents. As far as I can make out, despite my criticisms over the past four years, none of the charities carry out environmental impact assessments of the impacts of goats.
“If you look at the statistics produced by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, it is clear that the vast increase in domestic livestock numbers, over the past half century, is one of the causes of habitat destruction, and consequently a major cause of poverty. A 2002 research paper, Mapping Poverty and livestock in the Developing World (Thornton et al) raised as many questions as it did answers, but it would appear that few if any of the aid agencies are actually reading this sort of research, let alone addressing the implications of it.
“Ask any conservationist”
“Ask any conservationist what they think of goats,” Burton continued, “and they will tell you: they are one of the most environmentally destructive creatures in the world, particularly in arid, drought prone areas, with erratic rainfall. There is also a direct correlation (as yet largely unquantified by any scientists) between the numbers of goats and the disappearance of wildlife. Large mammals, adapted to living in arid areas, such as antelopes (many of which are endangered), are in direct competition with cattle, goats, sheep and other livestock – and cows need huge quantities of water as well as grazing.
“Goats and sheep as Christmas presents may be a good way of raising funds,” Burton concluded, “but it is giving a message which is not only misleading, but could be exacerbating an already serious situation. The aid charities promoting more livestock are effectively encouraging habitat degradation.”
Maneka Gandhi testifies
Agreed former Indian minister for social welfare and animal protection and two-time environment minister Maneka Gandhi, in a 2007 newspaper column that she continues to distribute, “Each goat eats all the grass and shrubbery on two hectares of land a year. A goat destroys the fertility of land and [the value of] any milk or dung it may give is very little compared to the havoc it wreaks…Within two years, the people who get goats have an even poorer lifestyle. There are village quarrels about community grazing; children are taken out of school to graze the goats; water becomes even scarcer.”
Farmed animal needs
Offered Animal Aid director Andrew Tyler in 2006, “Farming animals is an inefficient, expensive and environmentally destructive way of producing food. Skeptical readers might accuse me of dressing up a concern about animal welfare as a concern for the world’s poor. There are major animal welfare issues involved in sending animals to, for instance, the Horn of Africa,” Tyler acknowledged, citing droughts and ensuing floods which only the year before killed up to 80% of the resident cattle. The same happened again in 2011.
“But this is not about cows taking precedence over people,” Tyler continued. “All farmed animals require proper nourishment, large quantities of water, shelter from extremes, and veterinary care. Such resources are in critically short supply in much of Africa,” and much of Asia and Latin America, too.”
Vegetarian organizations and some animal advocates have criticized livestock donations as often being inappropriate, ineffective in fighting poverty, and inhumane almost since evangelical Christian missionary Dan West founded Heifer International as the Heifer Project in 1948.
Agricultural economists began pointing out flaws in the strategy in the early 1970s, notably that many recipients of gift animals were unable to feed them to maturity, let alone able to feed and raise offspring.
Environmentalists later added questions about the wisdom of introducing non-native livestock to often fragile habitats, where animals with larger or different appetites from the indigenous strains might overtax the vegetation or simply starve.
How long will it take for donors to realize that distributing plastic reindeer might accomplish about as much to alleviate hunger and poverty as continuing to fund livestock gift charities?
Certainly fewer animals would suffer, and much less habitat––and a lot more water and land would be left for growing food crops.