Cheaper wheels mean less horsepower
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2008:
NEW DELHI, CAIRO–The future of more than 50 million working
donkeys worldwide and millions of horses and bullocks may be affected
by explosive growth in motor vehicle acquisition.
Indian car acquisition, already growing at 20% per year, is
expected to accelerate with the January 2008 introduction of a car
priced at just $2,500, made by Tata Motors Ltd., the leading car
and truck maker in India. Ford just two days earlier announced plans
to invest $875 million in expanding small car production capacity in
Motor vehicle acquisition in China is increasing almost as
fast, and the boom is spilling over to other parts of Asia.
The environmental and socio-economic effects of the spread of
motorized transport have received much attention from governments,
academia, and mass media, but the implications for animal welfare
have been mostly overlooked.
First-time Asian car buyers are believed to be typically city
residents, stepping up from scooters and motorcycles. But the $500
scooters and $1,500 motorcycles that the inexpensive new cars replace
will become half-priced used vehicles, competing for buyers with new
lines of Indian and Chinese-made 110-cc. motorcycles sold for as
little as $450.
In that price range, a motorcycle costs about the same in
most of the developing world as a pair of donkeys.
When motorization becomes cost-competitive with animal power,
working animal populations tend to crash, as occurred most recently
in eastern Europe after the fall of Communism. Coinciding with
fast-rising car acquisition, former Iron Curtain nations have
exported hundreds of thousands of horses and donkeys to slaughter,
mostly in Italy.
High gasoline prices have in the past encouraged the less
affluent people of developing nations to continue to use animal
power, even after the cost of buying motor vehicles became within
reach, but the dynamics of the marketplace have recently changed.
Global gasoline prices continue to rise, yet increasing diversions
of materials formerly used for feed and fodder into ethanol
manufacture have sent the cost of feeding working animals and
livestock soaring too.
Currently, in most developing nations, the cost per mile
traveled for a donkey and a motorcycle are approximately equal.
The nations most likely to see steep drops in donkey use
include China, with about 11 million donkeys; India, with about
two million donkeys; and Egypt, also with about two million
donkeys, plus subsidized gasoline prices that are among the lowest
in the world.
All three nations have had slightly rising donkey populations
in recent years, but the increases have lagged behind human
Egypt, with the highest rate of donkey use, had 23 people
per donkey in 1973; 41 people per donkey in 2000; and has 44 people
per donkey now. Total donkey use relative to human population has
thus already been dropping at about 0.5% per year.
Among other incentives offered to encourage motorization,
India, China, and Egypt have all passed the U.S. in percentage of
paved road miles, at 59% for the U.S., 63% in India, 78% in Egypt,
and 83% in China.
Economists in India, China, and Egypt have projected for
several years that the fastest way to make more water available to
livestock production, rapidly growing in all three nations, is to
decrease the numbers of working animals.