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Do Oxfam’s goats kill?

Of the mainstream development charities, Oxfam is one of the better. Yes, it remains wedded to failed notions of ‘development aid’, but it is less shrill that many of the others. Its Oxfam Unwrapped initiative, where members of the public buy a Christmas present which goes to people in poor countries, strikes me as quite a good idea. Aid sent this way is certainly more likely to get to ‘real people’, rather than be sqandered by political elites like so much development aid.

But good intentions are not enough. Oxfam takes a perfectly good idea then ruins it by encouraging the gifting of goats. Goats are profoundly destructive to economic progress. They are the animal version of Robert Mugabe, destroying wealth and ripping up property rights, by destroying neighbours’ crops. They wreck agricultural land, turning fertile land into dust. As Lord Eden of Winton has said in the House of Lords:

Where there are large populations of goats, there is invariably poverty. Where there is poverty, there are invariably large populations of goats. Goats are marauding and indiscriminately destructive creatures. In his typically trenchant piece in last week’s Spectator, Matthew Parris described them as, “rank-smelling weapons of mass destruction”.

They destroy all vegetation, they kill reafforestation, they promote erosion and, in the long term, help to perpetuate poverty.

So why is Oxfam encouraging us to buy them for poor countries?

27 comments to Do Oxfam’s goats kill?

  • Brian

    I’m not sure ‘one of the better’ is quite the phrase here; perhaps ‘least worst’ would be more like it. Oxfam advocate nothing that would have been surprising in the pages of ‘Socialism Theory and Practice’.

    That anyone thinks that moderate improvements in subsistence agriculture are Africa’s road to prosperity is beyond my comprehension.

  • Guns don’t kill people, goats do!

    Sorry, couldn’t resist it 😎

  • Millie Woods

    But if you’re plagued with poison ivy on your land get a goat! They’ll gobble it up in no time flat!

  • roy

    I suspect there’s a big difference between goats running wild and gift goats. If a stray goat is a problem, no individual feels responsible for dealing with it. If a family’s goat is a problem, he’s dinner.

    Much the same could be said for cattle. Cow in the road: bad. Cow in the barn: good.

  • Why not ask the receivers of the gifts if they prefer goats or cash ?
    Of course, the do-gooders know better than you what is good for you.

  • Ben

    I think you’ll find it’s a metaphorical goat. The money just goes into the Charity coffers. They don’t actually send one physical goat over when you donate it. It’s just an indication of the worth of your donation.

    Having said that it doesn’t mean they aren’t eventually buying Goats with your money.

  • fjfjfj

    Run for your lives!

  • RAB

    They are trying to import the Horned Ones into Africa?
    I feel a bout of Islamic anger coming on…

  • Sam Duncan

    Indeed, Brian. Best of a bad bunch. And I’m not even sure about that. It was up to its neck in the “Make Poverty History” nonsense and, as John Trenchard noted, receives more than 10% of its funding from the taxpayer (I thought it was he who discovered that this sum is almost exactly equal to its payroll for professional staff, but apparently not).

    The best thing that can be said for it is that in the company of the likes of Christian Aid it’s hard to think of any better. And its bookshops are rather good for a casual browse of an afternoon.

    Mathew Parris, no stranger to Africa himself, wrote a piece in the Spectator a few years back on the lunacy of sending goats, of all things, to a continent that can’t even feed its people. Apparently they’re pretty good at escaping captivity, Roy.

  • Ben has it right. You may ‘purchase a goat’ but what you’re doing in fact is paying money for various agricultural and sustainable development purposes. A few goats may be purchases where necessary, but equally your money may go into providing a feeding trough, or some barbed wire, or seeds, or whatever. Unfortunately most of those things don’t look so pretty on a gift card, and they don’t feel as good as having bought some third-worlder a cute little goat. So goats are advertised, and all sorts of things are in fact bought – some of which are goats.

  • spidly

    gotta send goats. imagine the ensuing crapstorm if you sent pigs to the sudan.

  • “why is Oxfam encouraging us to buy them for poor countries?”

    It’s something like the heifer project, and something like the old fish and fisherman story. It makes sense unless goats are being sent to a place that is overpopulated, and so, overgrazed. Learning to fish won’t help if there are already too many fishermen and too few fish.

    There are mixed use general farming societies that make good use of goats. The goats live off crop residues while providing milk, meat, fertilizer and fuel. Goats are small compared to some ruminants, such as cattle, and it is only ruminants that can live off crop residues since they can digest cellulose. Pigs, chickens and other ungulates (donkeys for example) can’t do this trick. Small animals are important for small farms.

    There are miniature cattle too. They are being used rather than goats in some places, such as Cuba, where poverty is so extreme that innovative agriculture is a matter of survival. In the day many English breeds were much smaller than they are now, especially in the highlands and islands. Most breeds still have miniatures. I’ve considered raising some miniature Angus myself since their conversion efficiency is good. You get more meat for a given amount of forage.

  • spidly

    they sure take care of the blackberries.

  • gotta send goats. imagine the ensuing crapstorm if you sent pigs to the sudan.

    hehehe… evil thoughts are starting to form…

  • DavidG

    Oxfam ‘one of the better’ ??
    I recall a study a while back that looked at how efficiently charities converted your money into benefits. Oxfam was the worst – wasting up to 50% I believe in overheads (ie workers salaries).

  • I remember reading that goats were one of the reasons that large parts of the ME and Africa (including Sahara) became deserts.

  • Eddie Willers

    “So why is Oxfam encouraging us to buy them for poor countries?”

    Simple – to perpetuate poverty and so offer continued justification for the existance of charitable groups such as Oxfam.

  • steve

    Goats get a bad press, if you stick too many animals of any kind on a patch of land it gets grazed out. They did not create the Sahara (which would have been no mean achievement, for even the most ravenous herbivore) This was due to climatic changes related to the end of the Ice age (plus they weren’t domesticated at the time)
    Habitat destruction through over grazing typically begins with other (more profitable) animals such as cattle, the goats generally only turn up when the land is pretty much “Donald Ducked” and they are just about the only animals you can graze on whats left.

    Oh and you can take it from me they are very, very tasty, and are just about the best meat around for a really hot curry.

  • Sigivald

    None of this addresses the really important question:

    Why reafforestation and not reforestation?

    What’s that -af- doing in there?

  • Albion: Guns don’t kill people, goats do!

    Surely that is: “Goats don’t damage environments, goatherders do!”?

    Steve, goats may not create the Sahara, but they sure could expand it.

    As for marginal increases in subsistence farming, I have long said the real solution is to stop subsistence and move to commercial farming, which is more efficient and then creates the demand for decent infrastructure to distribute produce. People urbanise and the economy industrialises. Once you have that in place, almost no famine or crop failure will cause mass starvation unless there is war to disrupt logistics. With subsistence, often the logistics are part of the problem, i.e. no decent roads, shortage of trucks etc.

  • Gifted goats are the least of Africa’s worries…
    OK, not absolutely the least, that would be the delay on the Circle Line this evening, but goats would still be a considerable way down the list.

  • Paul Marks

    People have been saying that goats damage country since Roman times.

    How true the claims are I do not know – but it is astonishing that Oxfam is not aware of the claims (if they are not aware of them).

  • Goat: the gift that keeps on shitting giving.

    I don’t know whether they’re really responsible for the Sahara, but having seen one, with every sign of enjoyment, eat a tablecloth, I suspect they’d have given it a good try.

    I also, vaguely, remember them being blamed for low soil fertility in parts of Greece.

  • James of England

    Christian Aid used to beat Oxfam for Make Poverty History awfulness, but they replaced their most offensive/ productive bitch.

    As someone who reads a fair amount of trade law stuff, and talks to people from most factions of the debate, Oxfam certainly appear to be the most active campaigners to keep us from buying stuff from foreigners. And to keep Americans from doing so. Even if their goat thing were awesome, they would still be one of the worst charities in the UK.

  • Lauren

    As someone who has actually gone to see what the Unwrapped goats mean to a family in Africa, I can contest a lot of what you purport to know.
    1/ When you buy a goat, you buy a goat. That money will be spent on providing a goat/ herd of goats to the community. Not ‘put into Oxfam’s general pot’ as it were. Unwrapped donations are treated as restricted donations, meaning when you buy the gift your money is spent on what you want it to be spent. In this case a goat.
    2/ The money from farming goats/ selling the milk etc is used to SAVE PEOPLE’S LIVES.
    Whilst you all sit here quantifying which charity is better than the other, at least someone out there is doing something about poverty.
    3/ In the last audit, for every pound Oxfam is donated, 79p goes straight to development projects. The rest of the pound goes towards overheads and outgoings, staff salary etc. Not the 50% you claim.
    4/ Yes, Oxfam receives funding from Dfid (your tax money) to put towards projects. But I would argue this is a far better way of making sure international aid in the form of cash gets where its meant to go and not into the hands of corrupt government officials.

  • Jose Risueno

    It seems easy to write of something that lives so far away: goats.We were very poor in the Canary Islands and goats helped us to transform vegetation into milk,cheese and meat.Their skin and horns has been very useful. Nowadays, although we still produce one of the best cheeses in the world we are not so dependent from goat´s proteins but we love them.We know what is our debt with this animal essential for poor people life.I do not think goats are a cause of poverty but a symptom and it is not a good idea to cut someone´s head in order to avoiding headakes,unless in Lord Eden´s case.Regards.

  • Bill

    This seems like a fairly sterile debate. Sadly, nearly all charities have SOMETHING wrong with them. Maybe we should have huge comparison sites like the ones for car insurance, but you probably would need another charity to pay for them. We now seem to have an industry focussed around the great goat debate, about which I personally am fed up to the back teeth.

    How you consider what charity meets your criteria and which you find least worst is a very much a subjective judgement. For instance, I would not want my money to go to any charity which promoted Christianity or for that matter any other brand of religion. Whether it’s true or not I don’t know, but I was once told that the proceeds from the Salvation Army’s Christmas serenades don’t go to the needy but to a fund for buying instruments for the serenaders.

    I think you have to just take your chance and give what you can according to your personal judgement. Few of us are able to track our money all the way from our bank account right through to your actual goat in your actual African village. It would be tragic if all this controversy had the effect of reducing the total amounts given to the Third World. It’s my view that in the present world-wide economic situation the writing is on the wall for governmental aid, and however regrettably, the burden of trying to compensate will fall upon charities and the individuals who contribute to them.