Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Goats for Africa

For the discerning bien-pensant last Christmas there was nothing that shouted 'I care!' louder than giving as a present a goat for the Third World, arranged through the good offices of Oxfam or Christian Aid. It was noted at the time that it might be significantly more generous to forgo one's own presents rather than other peoples', but most people were happy to accept the basic generosity of the principle.

I remember making it clear at the time that if anyone attempted to give a goat on my behalf they could expect a distinctly frosty reception, not through my inherent selfish greed (although that too obviously) but more because of the inherently fatuous and damaging impact of the whole hare-brained scheme.

It seems that I'm not alone in this belief. Put simply, the argument in favour of this scheme is that a goat represents material wealth, can be used to accumulate such wealth, and provides an otherwise uncapitalised family with some degree of security. Lovely. On the other hand, the goat is single-handedly (or single-hoofedly) responsible for the desertification, soil erosion and general destruction of the African bush.

In the 1950s and 1960s, as the Times points out, the EEC was busy providing assistance for the de-stocking of Southern Mediterranean goat herds on this very basis. At the same time in Africa, colonial administration were agreed that the root of the trouble in 'African agriculture' was not under-capitalisation or even over-population, though both were indeed deleterious, but over-stocking. In well-managed colonies such as Northern Rhodesia or Kenya Government agencies made explicit attempts to reduce the size of African farmers' herds and improve their quality through Government bulls and regular dipping.

Mostly the attempts were ineffective, since cattle of all kinds were and are used as much for their symbolic value as their inherent utility. If one chap had 30 head of cattle, there was nothing for his neighbour but to accumulate 35, regardless of the actual value of the stringy beasts. The resultant over-stocking on smallholdings led to soil erosion and de-forestation thereby hastening the rural de-population and urban expansion consistent with almost every newly independent African state.

What was true for cows is doubly and trebly true for goats. The bloody little things eat absolutely everything, leaves, branches and roots together. If you want to see the damage wrought by goats I advise you to travel to any of the old 'Tribal Trust Lands' in Zimbabwe (although perhaps not just now) and see the dust and mud and bugger all that characterises them.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

FBNA = frequently, but not always.

Some organizations that distribute goats - and other things, like chicken, even bees hives - try to teach land management techniques as part of the gift.

9:08 am  

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