Time for my annual whinge about Christmas Goats. Christian Aid, Oxfam, the MercyCorps, PresentAid, and many other aid charities are still promoting an expanding population of goats, sheep and cattle as a solution to poverty in Africa.
In fact 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.
Research into poverty and livestock
If you look at the statistics produced by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, 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.
An important research paper Mapping Poverty and livestock in the Developing World ( Thornton et al 2002,) raises as many questions as it does 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 what they think of goats, 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, 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.
Saving an acre of rainforest, planting a tree or funding a ranger (or any one of WLT's green gifts this Christmas), will do more to alleviate poverty in the long run, than any number of goats. This is long-term thinking, against short-term emotive responses.