Livestock gift charities do not help poor nations, say global critics

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2007:
LONDON–Sixty years after Heifer
International founder Dan West pioneered the idea
of soliciting donations to give livestock to poor
families in disadvantaged parts of the world,
criticism of the practice at last cracked major
mainstream news media during the pre-Christmas
2006 peak giving season.
At least three major British newspapers
and news syndicates amplified critiques of
livestock donation programs, quoting most
extensively from a prepared statement
distribu-ted by Animal Aid director Andrew Tyler.
“This year about a dozen agencies are
using your money to punt goats, chickens,
sheep, camels, donkeys, pigs and cows to the
world’s starving,” Tyler warned donors. “Prices
vary: £70 will get you a cow from Help The Aged.
Send A Cow demands £750 per animal. Farm Friends
wants £30 for a goat, whereas World Vision will
settle for £91 for a whole herd.

“Farming animals is an inefficient,
expensive and environmentally destructive way of
producing food,” Tyler continued. “Sceptical
readers might accuse me of dressing up a concern
about animal welfare as a concern for the world’s
poor. There are major animal welfare issues
involved in sending animals to, for instance,
the Horn of Africa, where earlier this year up
to 80% of the cattle perished in a drought. Many
of the remainder were washed away in the floods
that followed. But this is not about cows taking
precedence over people. Reality is that animal
gift schemes are, in the words of the World Land
Trust, ‘environmentally unsound and economically
“Oxfam, Christian Aid, Help the Aged,
and others are wooing the ethical shopper with
pictures of cute goats wearing Christmas hats and
promises of helping the poor in developing
countries,” summarized Sean O’Neill of The Times
of London, “but the World Land Trust and Animal
Aid say that it is ‘madness’ to send goats, cows
and chickens to areas where they will add to the
problems of drought and desertification.”
Said World Land Trust director John
Burton, “The goat campaign may be a pleasing
gift and a short-term fix for milk and meat for a
few individuals, but in the long term the
quality of life for these people will slowly be
reduced with devastating effect.”
Added Andrew Tyler, “All farmed animals
require proper nourishment, large quantities of
water, shelter from extremes, and veterinary
care. Such resources are in critically short
supply in much of Africa,” the major recipient
of help from the British livestock-donating
Wrote O’Neill, “Christian Aid said that
its critics misunderstood its program. The
purchase of a goat, the charity said, did not
necessarily mean that a goat was bought. The
money would go into a farming and livestock fund
distributed by local project managers.”
Added Kevin McCandless of,
“In addition to providing the animals, which are
usually bought locally, the charities say they
provide the support needed to care for them,
including fencing and free veterinary care. Send
a Cow said it worked closely with local farmers
in Africa, providing them with support and using
their knowledge to deal with issues such as soil
erosion. It said it does not provide cows to
areas where they would compete with humans for
water, and insisted on a zero-grazing policy.
The donated animals are kept in spacious shelters
and have fodder brought to them.”
Few of the poorest parts of Africa and
Asia can afford to raise animals that way.
Objection from India
Commented former Indian minister for
social welfare and animal protection Maneka
Gandhi, “Nothing irritates me more than
charities abroad that collect money and purport
to give it to women or children or for animals in
Asia or Africa. Very little reaches the country
or the cause for which it is meant. Most of it
goes toward their own ‘infrastructure,’ which
means rent, staff, travel and ‘investigation,'”
Mrs. Gandhi charged.
“If people have paid money for 5,000
animals, fewer than 200 will actually get
there–I can bet on it. This is cynical
exploitation of animals and poor people,” Mrs.
Gandhi alleged. “Basically [livestock gift
schemes] are a fundraising mechanism.
“These charities woo the ethical shopper
with pictures of goats wearing Christmas hats and
promises of helping the poor in developing
countries [but] it is madness to send goats,
cows and chickens to areas where they will add to
the problems of drought and desertification,”
Mrs. Gandhi continued. “Each goat eats all the
grass and shrubbery on two hectares of land a
year. A goat destroys the fertility of land and
[the value of] any milk or dung it may give is
very little compared to the havoc it wreaks.
“Within two years,” Mrs. Gandhi asserted, “the
people who get goats have an even poorer
lifestyle. There are village quarrels about
community grazing; children are taken out of
school to graze the goats; water becomes even
scarcer. Two goats can reduce the amount of
farmland available to local people and result in
villages becoming deserted, while a cow will
drink up to 90 liters of water every single day.”
Objection from Nepal
“I have been sending letters to Dutch
agencies to stop this kind of program for yet
another reason,” commented Animal Nepal founder
Lucia DeVries. “The animals are generally
slaughtered in an inhumane manner,” DeVries
alleged. “In Nepal, for instance, there is
only one slaughterhouse, in the capital
(Katmandu). This means that virtually all
livestock is killed with the
often-not-too-sharp-knives” of rural butchers,
“causing much suffering to the animal and
possibly to the butcher. I’ve met quite a few
people who lost fingers while trying to kill a
goat,” DeVries said.
“Ultimately,” said Tyler, “my objection
is to the commercial forces that seek to
persuade people of the poor world that their best
nutritional interests are served by buying into
modern, high-throughput farmed animal production
processes. With that comes an addiction to high
capital input systems, additional stresses on
precious water supplies, environmental
destruction, a loss of control over the means of
production, bad health, a nightmare animal
welfare scenario and more human poverty and
Tyler urged donors to “boycott the
donate-an-animal schemes and instead support
projects that help people, animals, and the
environment. Animal Aid,” Tyler said, is
“seeking support for a scheme to plant 2,000
trees in Kenya’s Rift Valley. They will bear
oranges, avocados, mangos, pawpaws, kei
apples, and macadamia nuts. Such efforts won’t
erase the blight of poverty in Africa,” Tyler
said, “but neither will they add to it.”

Protest to Oprah

Massachusetts Animal Rights Coalition
cofounders Steve and Helen Rayshick asked animal
advocates to join them in complaining to
television show host Oprah Winfrey about her
“supporting and promoting Heifer International,”
the Rayshicks wrote.
“The Heifer International training farm,
called Overlook Farms, is near us in Rutland,
Massachusetts,” the Rayshicks said. “They raise
lambs and other animals for slaughter. It is no
different from any other animal farm. We
consider the ‘donation’ of animals to other
countries to be a thinly viewed attempt to spread
dairy and meat consumption to new parts of the
world,” the Rayshicks continued. “Note that
Heifer International first sent dairy cows to
Japan, after World War II, instead of sending
them healthy food that was a natural part of the
Japanese diet.”
Japanese activist Lydia Tanabe affirmed
to ANIMAL PEOPLE that the Heifer International
work in Japan is widely viewed as the start of
the modern Japanese factory-style dairy industry,
which is seen as having elevated Japanese animal
fat consumption, with detrimental influence on
adult health. “Heifer International is
bringing a cruel, unhealthy, environmentally
destructive diet to cultures that are primarily
vegetarian,” the Rayshicks objected. “Plus,
one of the cruelest aspects of animal agriculture
is animal transport, a mainstay of this
organization. We wonder how many of these poor
animals just get eaten on the spot upon arrival.

Islamic charities

The activist criticisms of animal
donation schemes came just as leading Islamic
charities introduced similar programs that enable
Muslims to “get the animal of their choice
sacrificed online for festivities like Eid Al
Adha,” according to syndicated reports
originating from the United Arab Emirates and
Pakistan. The charities reportedly included the
Alamgir Welfare Trust International, of Karachi;
the Sahara for Life Trust formed by singer
Abrarul Haq; and the U.S. charities Islamicity
and Life for Relief & Development.
Vegetarian organizations and some animal
advocates have criticized livestock donations as
often being inappropriate, ineffective in
fighting poverty, and inhumane almost since
Heifer International started in 1948, then
called the Heifer Project. Some agricultural
economists began pointing out flaws in the
strategy during the 1970s, notably that many
recipients of gift animals were unable to feed
them to maturity, let alone able to feed and
raise offspring. Environmentalists later added
questions about the wisdom of introducing
non-native livestock to often fragile habitats,
where animals with larger or different appetites
from the indigenous strains might overtax the
vegetation or simply starve.
ANIMAL PEOPLE summarized the arguments
against livestock donations in a May 2003 review
of the Compassion In World Farming and Humane
Education Trust video Saving Baby Ubuntu,
headlined “A video that never mentions Heifer
Project International shows why their premise is
The review may be accessed at

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