A recent press release issued by the World Land Trust (WLT) highlighted concerns relating to the hugely popular 'Give a Goat' initiatives being promoted by charities such as Oxfam, Christian Aid and Farm Africa.
John Burton, Chief Executive of WLT, argues that over grazing by goats in arid environments has disastrous effects on the fertility of the land and that charities promoting an increase in goat populations are "Achieving the exact opposite of what they initially attended."
Sparking considerable debate, this issue, reported in The Times, led to WLT CEO John Burton being interviewed on BBC 2 and Radio 4 along with Oxfam's International Director, Caroline Nursey. On the BBC's This Morning programme John Burton stressed that environmental impacts must be considered when tackling poverty issues and that the "Marketing of goats as a solution to world poverty is a very dangerous concept". In response, Caroline Nursey, however, was adamant that "Goats are not a cause of desertification".
WLT's concerns over the long term impact of such "quick fix" schemes have been echoed by other leading experts such as Peter Wood, Vice President of the Commonwealth Forestry Association, who said "I was delighted to read in The Times about your stand on the misguided Give a Goat campaign of Oxfam and others." Similar views were forwarded by the charity Animal Aid who believe that "these 'gifts' merely add to the problems of hard-pressed communities because of the drain on limited resources the animal represents."
In reply to the WLT's concerns Farm Africa (a charity marketing goat gifts) issued their own press release but again did nothing to reassure the fears that over-grazing by goats leads to desertification, by saying "In many parts of Africa local people will tell you that they used to own large herds of cattle and sheep but now all they can keep are goats."
"Claiming that goats are the only solution after cattle and sheep have died of starvation (as Oxfam and Farm Africa do), is an illogical and ill-thought out suggestion", says John Burton. "Once a habitat is this seriously degraded goats will be the final straw. All regeneration ceases, leading to desertification. This is not an hypothesis, anyone can see for themselves if they visit the arid areas of Africa or Asia."
The World Land Trust feels that it is important to highlight the dangers of the "Send a Goat" campaigns which have led to the purchase of more than 100,000 goats in 2005 and urges all potentially goat-givers to consider the long term consequences of their "feel good" gift.