A video that never mentions Heifer Project International shows why their premise is wrong
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2003:
Saving Baby Ubuntu
Video from Compassion In World Farming (South Africa)
c/o Humane Education Trust
P.O. Box 825, Somerset West, 7129, South Africa; <email@example.com>
15 minutes. Free on request; donation recommended.
Saving Baby Ubuntu is the gently narrated story of how
several African animal advocates rescued just one newborn calf from
the traffic in calves between the factory dairy farms of South Africa
and the shantytowns where poor people struggle mostly unsuccessfully
to raise livestock of their own, on inadequate land and improper
diets. Most of the animals die miserably.
Among all the illusions afflicting poor people around the
world, among the most insidious is the notion that anyone can build
wealth by trading upon the fecundity of animals. Surplus dairy
calves, “spent” hens, and other cast-off factory farmed livestock
are indeed dirt-cheap, because to the factory farms these animals
are merely waste products, whose continued life is an
inconvenience–and healthier animals can sometimes be obtained free,
or almost free, from do-gooder organizations like Heifer Project
Yet even if there is little or no initial investment to acquire the
animal, raising livestock successfully takes a great deal of
know-how, and when done on a small scale actually costs a lot more
relative to economic yield than raising tens of thousands. The price
of adequate feed alone, when purchased a few bales, buckets, or
grain sacks at a time, can often exceed the slaughter price of an
Yard poultry thrive on their own pickings in numbers too few to
produce many eggs or much meat beyond very limited family use–and
Third World poor people usually do not have much yard for animals to
begin with. Those who roam the neighborhood are at constant risk
from traffic and theft.
Small pigs may thrive in urban areas which lack refuse collection and
sewer systems, but the advent of modern sanitation soon eliminates
their free food source. As soon as refuse is collected and
concentrated, the edible slops are sold to larger-scale farmers,
leaving the slum would-be farmers with animals whose individual food
intake, if the food is purchased, can be more expensive than
feeding an entire family.
Allowing dairy cattle to roam at large and feed themselves worked for
centuries in rural India, but has become a disastrous custom in the
India of today, where car/cow accidents kill thousands of both
cattle and people, thousands more cattle die from ingesting plastic
bags, and among the most challenging political problems is figuring
out how to exile cattle from cities–for their own good as well as
human welfare–without condemning many to either slaughter by illicit
beef traders, or death by neglect at overwhelmed, underfunded, and
sometimes corrupt pinjarapoles, the charity cow-shelters operated in
many communities for as long as 3,000 years. Originally the
pinjarapoles only looked after aged and disabled cattle. Never
until the past few decades did anyone anticipate that cattle would be
abandoned en masse as an economic liability, because the poor could
no longer collect enough free fodder by the roadsides.
The efficiencies of scale and realities of modern living are
why factory farming evolved in the first place.
Unless a would-be livestock entrepreneur brings to the job
substantially more know-how than the factory farmers have, and has
plentiful access to free food, he or she has little chance of
winning for market share.
But that is almost the least of reasons why people who care
about either animals or relieving hunger should be concerned about
schemes that encourage the poor to try improve their lives by keeping
Saving Baby Ubuntu, through telling the story of this one
fortunate calf, reviews the animal welfare issues involved in such
efforts, and even offers an unusually happy ending.
Although it directly refers only to the practices of South
Africa, and makes no mention of organizations other than those who
assist the calf Ubuntu, Saving Baby Ubuntu is timely and relevant in
the U.S. as well, where Heifer Project International is actively
attempting to enlist classrooms in fundraising to support further
distribution of livestock to the poor of various nations.
Founded in 1947 by Indiana farmer and evangelical Christian
missionary Dan West, Heifer Project International is still very much
an evangelical Christian sectarian organization, as is made clear by
the HPI web site and the bylaws available with the 2002 HPI filing of
IRS Form 990 at <www.guidestar.org>. Although the bylaws include
some non-exclusionary language, it is easy to see why HPI is viewed
by many Hindus as a Christian plot to taint their karma by enticing
or tricking them into eating beef. Here in the U.S. one could
question on constitutional grounds whether a public school should be
involved with such a sectarian organization at all.
Beyond that, livestock-rearing and increased meat-eating by
the poor are among the reasons why hunger persists.
This is no original insight of ANIMAL PEOPLE. Mohandas
Gandhi long ago cited rising per capita meat-eating by the rich and
middle classes as a major cause of starvation by the poor–and warned
that even if the poor could afford to eat meat at the rate of the
rich, the earth might not withstand the strain of producing so much
grain to feed livestock.
Paul Erlich and Frances Moore Lappe warned as far back as the
1960s that U.S.-led efforts to promote more animal husbandry in the
underdeveloped world were deeply misguided.
Lester Brown of the Worldwatch Institute, Jeremy Rifkin of
the Foundation for Economic Trends, Diet For A New America author
John Robbins, the late agricultural reform advocate Henry Geiger of
Manas, the Indian agricultural reformer Vandana Shiva, and the late
Henry Spira, founder of the Coalition for Nonviolent Food, among
many others, have reached similar conclusions.
Saving Baby Ubuntu reinforces their message, and rebuts the
myth of Old MacDonald’s Farm, heavily invoked by Heifer Project
International in soliciting money and volunteer labor from children.
If an Old Macdonald’s Farm where all the animals were kindly
treated ever existed anywhere, we have not seen it, in many visits
to rural regions of Africa, Asia, Europe, and both North and South
America. Agriculture in any form that includes killing animals has
never been kind.
On American farms, the process of hardening children toward
the inevitable suffering of the animals raised for meat typically
begins with encouraging children to bond with animals raised as 4-H
projects–whom the children are later forced to sell for slaughter.
That tear-jerking ritual should be recognized by now as a
form of psychological child abuse. Even 4-H itself admitted the
traumatic nature of it more than a decade ago, when a 4-H speaker
told an American Humane Association conference on the link between
child abuse and animal abuse that 4-H had stopped requiring children
in inner-city chapters to sell animals for slaughter, since many of
them had already endured the trauma of broken homes and fractured
The American initiation into farm life also often includes
roughing up animals in amateur rodeos. Once the child no longer
considers animals’ pain, he or she is ready to become a livestock
Third World desensitizing methods include public rites such
as animal sacrifice, still practiced in parts of Africa, India,
and elsewhere, bullfighting in Spain, France, and Latin America,
and beating, burning, or boiling dogs and cats to death in Korea
before eating them, to name just a few of the atrocities we have
investigated and reported about.
Around the world, all societies that practice animal
husbandry are desensitized societies. The abuse of animals
inevitably spills over into the treatment of women and children.
Polygamy, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, and slavery
persist in many of the very regions that Heifer Project International
serves, for example, as extensions of common agricultural practice
to those of our own species who are least able to protect themselves.
Thus Saving Baby Ubuntu is ultimately about saving babies of
our own species, too, including from the excesses of culture–
theirs, and ours.