CHARITIES that encourage people to donate animals as a means of tackling poverty in developing countries have defended the practice, in response to a campaign arguing that it disadvantages the recipients and contributes to the climate crisis.
The campaign was launched in mid-December by two bodies: the Animal Save Movement, an “anti-speciesist” activist network whose vision is “an equitable, eco-friendly vegan world”; and In Defence of Animals, a California-based international animal-protection charity.
Among the supporters is the conservationist Dr Jane Goodall (News, 21 May). In a video message, she noted that purchasing farm animals could result in “unintended consequences. The animals must be fed and they need a lot of water, and in so many places water is getting more and more scarce thanks to climate change.
“Veterinary care is often limited or totally lacking, so it would be ever so much better to help by supporting plant-based projects, and sustainable irrigation methods [and] regenerative agriculture to improve the soil.”
A press release from the campaign said that animal-gifting programmes “hurt gift recipients by burdening them with more mouths to feed in areas where food and water are often scarce. They also worsen the climate crisis, decrease food stability, undermine sustainable development, contribute to animal suffering, and cause health impacts by promoting unhealthy western diets.” It also mentioned “childhood trauma from watching beloved animals get brutally slaughtered”.
A letter signed by 14 faith-based organisations including Catholic Action for Animals, warns that “replicating the mistakes of developed countries by expanding animal agriculture and causing ecological devastation is the worst gift in the world.”
The campaign asks charities to carry out “carbon disclosure” of their projects, stop animal gifting, and implement “plant-based food-system projects as a crucial step in addressing the escalating climate crisis”, including providing training in vegan farming techniques.
Daryl Booth, founder of Sarx, a charity that “empowers Christians to champion the cause of animals and live in peace with all God’s creatures (News, 24 March 2017)”, said last month: “Veganism is sometimes perceived as a luxury for rich Westerners. Nonetheless, it is not animal agriculture but rather plant-based projects which hold the key to ensuring food and water security for the world’s poorest people.
“Was is not God’s original intention for humanity to till and work the land (Genesis 2.15)? It is through such cultivation of the land, particularity sustainable irrigation methods and soil enrichment, that will feed present and future generations of humans and animals alike.”
Among the charities that offer animals are Christian Aid, Oxfam, World Vision and Send a Cow. Christian Aid enables donors to contribute to its “Agriculture and Livestock Fund” through gifts including a sheep for women in Bangladesh who can sell the wool (£37), and a cow to supply families with milk and to be sold at market (£187). It notes that a goat (£35) produces manure for crops and is resilient in harsh environments and drought. It also offers plant-based gifts such as seeds, tools and cocoa saplings.
A spokesperson for Christian Aid said: “The climate crisis is already hurting the most vulnerable communities. In places like South Sudan, where Christian Aid operates, we have seen climate-caused floods devastate farms.
“For a small-scale subsistence farm, a goat can be vital to keeping a family from going hungry. Selling a goat’s kids can also provide income to invest for a better future.
“While Christian Aid keeps our fundraising under review, with an annual income of £85k from animal gifts we are confident these initiatives make a vital difference to people in need.”
A spokesperson for Oxfam noted that its “Unwrapped” programme funded a “wide range of projects . . . following extensive discussions with communities and local organisations to identify the greatest need and the appropriate and sustainable solution.” This included seeds, training in climate smart farming, coping with droughts and floods, beekeeping, and business training.
“Oxfam only provides livestock to communities where keeping animals is a traditional or essential part of their way of life and where conditions are suitable at the time,” they said. “Animal welfare is a priority with veterinary services, training of animal-health workers, drugs and treatment included alongside training in managing and maintaining livestock.”
“It’s important to understand that the lives of families in rural Africa are very different to farmers or consumers in high-income countries,” Send a Cow’s communications manager, Jennifer Stevenson, said this week. “In many African farming communities, livestock are even more valued for their manure than for the food they produce — it’s absolutely vital for replenishing depleted soils. And the greenhouse gas emissions produced by one cow can be offset by 0.5 hectares of trees planted for fodder around the field boundaries of an average-sized 1.5 hectare smallholding.
“As part of our whole-farm system training, we ensure that any livestock can be supported sustainably before any animals are introduced. Animal welfare is absolutely central to our work . . . High-quality animal-derived protein can be essential for malnourished adults and children who are suffering from stunted growth. Communities in rural Africa just don’t have access to the same variety of high-quality plant-based protein foods that vegetarians and vegans in high-income countries can eat.”