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Debate: Giving animals at Christmas to developing countries

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Is it a good idea to give animals to developing countries at Christmas time?

Background and context

Giving charitable animal donations at Christmas time has become increasingly popular in recent years, in the USA, UK and elsewhere. Instead of buying a relative or friend a conventional present, and giving it to them directly, the giver pays for a charitable donation of a farmyard animal to be made on behalf of their loved one.
Goats are the most common gift, but cows, camels, alpaca and chickens are also widely available. Typically the friend or relative is sent a card or certificate by the charity telling them of the donation which has been given on their behalf. The money is then used in a developing country to purchase the animal requested and this is then given to a family in a poor community who are judged by the local representatives of the charity to be likely to particularly benefit from the gift. Often the recipient family have to give the first female offspring of their animal back to the scheme, so that others in their village can benefit from the project. Although domestic animal donations have been available for some years from specialist charities, such as Heifer International of the USA, they first became mainstream in 2004. Today over a dozen UK charities alone offer such schemes, including the very largest such as Oxfam, Christian Aid, CAFOD and Farm Aid. It is estimated that altogether over 100 000 goats were donated this way in 2005. Over the past year or so animal donation schemes have run into criticism from a number of sources. Charities such as Animal Aid have objected to livestock gifts on welfare grounds, pointing out that the animals involved are likely to suffer in developing world conditions. They have also questioned the wisdom of imposing western systems of husbandry upon the developing world. Other Non-Governmental Organisations, such as the World Land Trust have raised environmental concerns, arguing that animals such as goats can wreck great damage on fragile ecosystems. They have also pointed out that if such schemes wreck the environment, they will make the poor communities who are supposed to benefit even poorer in the long term. There has also been publicity around the way in which donation schemes operate, as it became clear that charities are usually not bound to deliver the specific animal purchased from their catalogue or website. Instead charities commonly reserve the right to spend the money on another form of livestock, or indeed on another form of aid entirely, if they judge that best for the developing world community with which they are working. Some charities have argued with each other over the management of their rival schemes, for example about whether the cost of a donation cover such things as vetinary care and training.
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Argument #1

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Yes

Giving farm animals is an excellent form of charitable donation. It is easy for potential donors in the developing world to make a real difference with these schemes, and the direct nature of the gift is attractive and easy to understand. This means that more money is raised for development work than would otherwise have been possible. For families in the developing world these donations are tremendously valuable in providing a lifeline out of poverty. Goats and other farmyard animals can provide meat, hides, milk or eggs to improve diets and generate income. They reproduce themselves to increase the benefit to the family affected, and some offspring can be given to others in the community to spread the effect. Goats in particular can eat crop wastes which would otherwise be useless, and all domestic animals produce manure which can make a valuable contribution to improving soil fertility. Finally, livestock can be sold to generate income, for example in order to send a child to school, or to make a business investment.

it is a great idea developing countries will do gd things with these animals.

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No

Giving a farm animal is often a very poor way of helping a family in the developing world. Families often do not know how to care properly for the animals they receive and even if they do, they may not have the resources to look after them properly. For example, farm animals need fodder, large quantities of water, some sort of shelter, and veterinary care, any or all of which may be in short supply in poor communities. It would be better to put limited resources to work in improving arable farming, which is a much more efficient way of producing food from scarce land and water than meat production. Finally, given the environmental destruction animals such as goats can cause, their inappropriate donation can actually impoverish communities even further in the longer term.

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Argument #2

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Yes

Animal donations are good for the wider community in which the recipient family lives. Charities ensure that the livestock involved are appropriate for each community and the environment in which it lives - typically these are pastoral communities which already have a tradition of looking after goats, cattle or alpacas, etc. When their existing herds have been lost, perhaps through war, disease, drought or some other natural disaster, donation schemes can allow communities to rebuild their livelihoods more quickly. In addition, many of the main charities involved in these schemes (e.g. Oxfam) involve village committees in deciding who should benefit from the donations, empowering the community to shape its own development agenda. They are also in a good position to see that the project is carried through appropriately. For example, it is typical for the first female offspring of the animal to be given back to the scheme, so that another family can benefit in turn from the livestock. This is truly a gift that grows! Communities can also prevent overgrazing, and share training and vetinary care.



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No

Animal donations are bad for rural economies, where wealth is often measured in livestock. The charities say that they only send livestock to communities where they are already an established part of the way of life and economy, but if this is the case then the arrival of new animals, given for free, will destabilise the local economy. By driving down the market value of existing livestock, donations to some may actually impoverish others as a knock-on effect. It will certainly affect investment decisions. There can be other negative results too; for example, where grazing and water are scarce an increase in the number of families seeking to feed and water livestock may lead to conflicts breaking out. Encouraging overreliance on pastoral agriculture may also encourage child labour as children are often set to work guarding livestock rather than being sent to school.




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Argument #3

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Yes

Animal donation schemes are good for both the western gift giver and the friend or relative on whose behalf the donation is made. What could be more appropriate at Christmas time, when we think of the ox and the ass around the Christ child's manger, and the shepherds with their flocks above Bethlehem, than a selfless gift of livestock to those in greater need than ourselves? Most people complain at the consumerisation of Christmas, and this is one way to return the festival to its real meaning. Certainly being involved in an animal donation is better than a pointless and unappreciated gift of socks, perfume or an unwanted book. And both giving and receiving the donation certificate may encourage people in the developed world to feel more connection with their brothers and sisters in the global south, leading them to take a great interest in development issues in the future.



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No

An animal donation is an unimaginative gift which says "I couldn't be bothered to spend time, thought and effort finding you a proper gift". For those with an interest in development aid it would be better for them to choose their own preferred charitable cause, and they may appreciate the drawbacks of animal donations. Vegetarians and vegans may positively find such gifts on their behalf to be distasteful and insensitive. For those with less interest in aid issues, the gift says that "I think you don't do enough for charity" and "I am holier than thou". By all means support animal donation schemes as part of your own charitable giving, if you think they can be justified, but don't pretend that they make suitable presents for those you love.



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Yes

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No

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Argument #4

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Yes

These schemes are good for the charities. Charities such as Oxfam, Heifer International and Christian Aid have been sending livestock to poor communities in the developing world for decades, judging it to be the best way of promoting development and self-sufficiency. The invention of donation schemes simply allows them to raise money for these causes more effectively, while raising awareness at the same time. There are likely to be more potential donors if people can see a direct connection between money given and its impact on the ground, and those who already donate are likely to give more. And it must be a good thing to divert some of the billions of pounds spent in the west on Christmas gifts each year into meaningful charity donations. Even if those who receive the donation certificates have no original interest in development issues, the animal given on their behalf may spark a desire to find out more about the communities who are benefitting from the scheme and to help them again in future.




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No

Animal donation schemes are just a cynical gimmick by bloated corporate charities cashing in on cute furry animals and the rise of internet and catalogue shopping. Rather than being led by the needs of those in the developing world they are meant to be helping, livestock donation is pushed by the charity's marketing arms because it is attractive to sentimental westerners. By diverting money into livestock gifts which might have come in anyway, these schemes can do real harm. It would be much better to give money to development charities without tying it to particular expenditure - then it can be spent in the way which will do most good. If you have to turn charity into a present, then it would be much better to give donations for things other than livestock - seeds, fruiting trees, latrines, education, libraries and water pumps can all be gifted.



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Argument #5

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Yes

Properly managed, animal donation schemes are fine for the environment. The charities involved know what they are doing after decades of experience in the field, and make a point of calling on local knowledge and expertise. This ensures that animals are only given to communities where livestock farming is already part of their traditions, and appropriate for the local environment. These communities know about the dangers of overgrazing and typically pursue seasonal grazing patterns, moving their herds or flocks about to prevent damage to the environment. Charities also now encourage zero grazing regimes in some areas, teaching communities how to keep cattle or goats under enclosed shelters where they can be fed specially grown fodder and crop waste without putting direct pressure on pastures.




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No

Grazing livestock are often very damaging for fragile, arid ecosystems. In the longer term animal donation can actually harm the people they are supposed to be benefitting because pastoral farming may be unsustainable. Goats and camels in particular are especially bad for the environment, grubbing up every bit of vegetation to the point where it may not be able to regrow. Loosened topsoil is then very vulnerable to erosion in floods or by wind - overgrazing is a major cause of desertification. For these very reasons European governments subsidised the reduction in sheep and goat herds around the Mediterranean in the 1960s. In addition, all livestock require large quantities of water, especially lactating beasts being kept for milk (e.g. cattle and goats) or to raise young. Providing such water may mean that vital arable irrigation suffers, or that groundwater tables are overexploited. Even where pastoral farming is part of the local tradition, rapid population increases over the past few decades will often have led to overgrazing and unsustainable exploitation of water and grazing. For example the number of goats in the developing world has already risen by 50% over the last fifteen years. We should not make such fragile situations worse.




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Argument #6

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Yes

Clearly vegetarians who object to all livestock farming will never support such schemes, but they are a small minority in almost every country. It is dishonest to attack animal donation schemes on environmental and economic grounds when the objection is really a moral one. Nonetheless, animals donated in such schemes are well looked after - after all, they are a very valuable resource for the families who receive them and they have every reason to treat them well. Human beings have always received valuable protein from animal sources - indeed some groups such as the Masaii and the Inuit have traditionally had no vegetable matter in their diets. It would be wrong to impose a particular type of western ethical view on communities in the developing world.




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No

The animals given in donation schemes often suffer terribly. All meat and dairy production is cruel, and vetinary care is usually unavailable in the developing world. The extreme weather conditions which plague many parts of the developing world mean that livestock are very vulnerable to natural disasters - for example, 80% of cattle in the Horn of Africa were lost successively to drought and then floods in 2005. And although zero grazing regimes sound good environmentally, they mean that all the cruelty of factory farming or battery poultry production is being introduced into the developing world. Higher temperatures and poorer vetinary care and regulation will mean that such methods will be even crueller than they are in developed countries. Overall, livestock farming is a terribly inefficient way of producing food from a given area of land - it would be much better to concentrate on promoting better agricultural techniques to boost cereal and vegetable yields in ways which do not impact on the environment.




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