The Heifer Project
A Bad Approach to Solving World Hunger Problems
Moo-ving people toward compassionate living
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The Heifer Project
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2003:
A video that never mentions Heifer Project International shows why their premise is wrong
Saving Baby Ubuntu
Compassion In World Farming (South Africa)
c/o The Humane Education Trust
P.O. Box 825, Somerset West, 7129, South Africa; <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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 International.
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 animal.
Yard poultry thrive on their own pickings in numbers too few for anyone to obtain many eggs or much meat beyond very limited family use--and Third World poor people usually do not have very 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 knowledge than the factory farmers have, and has plentiful access to free food, he or she has little chance of successfully competing 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 livestock.
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 uncharacteristically 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 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 identified rising per capita meat consumption 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 the Manas Institute, 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 acknowledged the traumatic nature of it more than a decade ago, when a 4-H representative 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 parental relationships.
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 farmer.
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 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.--M.C.--Merritt Clifton
Return to The Heifer Project: A Bad Approach to Solving World Hunger Problems
The calf photo on these pages is from Farm Sanctuary with our thanks.
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