A Goat of a Gift

Several well-known charities are encouraging donors to buy live chickens, goats and cows as Christmas gifts for the impoverished. The nice catalogue is full of pretty pictures and tells a very convincing story. I admit I was tempted by the idea of giving bunnies that breed blessings for a family in need or a stable with three little pigs as a present. But there is a debate over whether animal donation programs help or hinder the hunger problem. One reason is that animals cost a lot to feed. A farmer could fork out a hefty sum to feed and water his cow, money that might be better spent in growing food. Although, granted some of these animals would be providing on-going milk and eggs, not just the eventual meat.

World Land Trust calls these programs “environmentally unsound and economically disastrous” because of the potential damage grazing animals can inflict on fragile ecosystems. The manure can contaminate water supplies and if the animals are grazing, contribute to desertification. Animal rights groups are concerned about the non-existent animal welfare laws in many of these countries which means animals can suffer from lack of shelter, water and veterinary care. And they may not be slaughtered in humane ways either (although in my mind, this has always seemed an oxymoron). The debate is not settled. But consider supporting world hunger charities that do not use animals, such as: Trees for Life; The Women’s Bean Project; Plenty International; or  Unicef, Gifts of Magic.

Animals are not the only inappropriate gift however. A friend of mine was working for an international tour company, planning a deluxe tour of Egypt for a group of Canadians. She was in the middle-eastern country working out last minute details with ground operators. They were in a subdivision outside of Cairo and had just climbed up one of the Pyramids. They looked out across a highway onto a field. There they saw many farm workers, dressed in white, labouring in the field. Nearby, a shiny red tractor stood idle. My friend asked Achmed, one of the ground operators, “Why are all these people toiling in the hot sun when it would save a lot of time and energy to use the tractor?”

“We have to keep the people working,” said Achmed. The tractor, already starting to deteriorate in the heat and the sand, had been a misguided gift from an international aid group. A low-tech goat might have been the better gift in this case.

The City of Vancouver is about to pass a bylaw allowing urbanites to keep chickens. But please well-meaning friends, no Christmas cluckers for me either.

One Reply to “A Goat of a Gift”

  1. It’s an interesting debate whether livestock make an appropriate gift for someone in a developing country. I think the criticism about the environmental destruction animals can cause is more accurately aimed at industrial-level livestock in factory-like farms. Having a few animals on a small farm can actually be an environmental boost as they produce needed fertilizer in a nutrient cycle that has worked for thousands of years.

    One of the groups that didn’t get mentioned but is worth checking into for gift-giving is Heifer International: http://heifer.org. Its twin goals are ending hunger and caring for the earth, so programs emphasize agroecology, gender equity, sustainability and self-reliance.

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