These gifts are degrading to people, not animals

Animal Aid has attacked the nauseating fashion for sending goats and dung to Africans at Christmas - but for all the wrong reasons.

Nathalie Rothschild

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The annual ‘ethical gifts’ bonanza is in full swing. Charities like Oxfam, Christian Aid, World Vision and UNICEF are once again, with the help of do-gooding celebs, urging Western shoppers to send ‘life-changing’ Christmas presents to the developing world.

There are hundreds of ethical pressies to choose from. Animal lovers can pay for goats, ducks, llamas, donkeys and other livestock to be donated to the poor, while those who want to give ‘vulnerable children a chance to play and learn’ can pick an item from UNICEF’s education, therapy and play range. Or why not help World Vision build wells for African schools so that children can pump water by hand when they get thirsty?

No matter which gift you chose, you will be rewarded with that warm, fuzzy feeling that you get from knowing that you’ve helped make a poor person’s life just a bit more bearable. You will also receive free magnets, gift cards or calendars with pictures of poverty-stricken, but grateful, farmers.

‘Ethical gifts’, which sit well with the anti-consumption vogue in Western society, are ‘in’ right now. Yet just as it seemed nothing was new on the charity Christmas campaign front, one organisation raised concerns with schemes to send farmed animals to poor people in the developing world. ‘At first sight’, Animal Aid says, ‘it’s an uplifting idea, but the reality is that such animal gifts add to rather than diminish poverty’. Animal Aid is demanding more ‘humane gift schemes’.

It seems sensible. After all, the patronising gifts offered by Western NGOs may make Western shoppers feel good about themselves, but they will do little to eradicate poverty. And since aid charities refuse to acknowledge that people in the developing world might actually want to benefit from the mod cons that are so accessible in the West, there is little hope that they will take on the fight for genuine global equality. Their Christmas campaigns are not about demanding more for the poor; they simply ask Western consumers to help make poverty a little less awful.

Moreover, the ethical Christmas present initiatives help perpetuate an image of the Third World as a giant HIV-invested farm full of people with low ambitions who will simply smile gratefully upon receiving cans of worms, piles of dung or packs of condoms – which are all gifts offered by Western charities this Christmas. Rather than lifting people out of poverty, Oxfam and the rest are helping to sustain underdevelopment, refusing to acknowledge that people in the developing world aspire to the quality of life Westerners enjoy and take for granted.

But Animal Aid’s objection is not that the ethical Christmas gifts fail to meet the aspirations of the poor, but that they’re bad for animals and the planet. Not only does Animal Aid claim that animal farming is a ‘waste of resources’ and ‘a major source of climate changing gases’, it also suggests that farmers in the developing world don’t know how to take care of animals, and that they might end up starving themselves if they keep such animals.

The organisation argues that ‘you can feed many more people by directing [limited agricultural] resources to growing foods for people to eat directly rather than first passing nutrients through animals’. And, more to the point, ‘Animal Aid is keenly concerned about the welfare of the animals themselves. Where impoverished people cannot afford to feed and care for their animals, those animals endure extreme suffering and die.’

Animal Aid has managed to trump the condescension of all ethical gifts schemes by implying that the developing world doesn’t even deserve animal farming. It suggests we support groups that promote vegetarianism or veganism instead of giving money to NGOs like Oxfam. So Animal Aid thinks the ethical thing to do this Christmas is to stop people in the Third World from rearing or eating animals all together.

Western NGOs, including Animal Aid, are merely offering small-scale solutions to help people cope with poverty, not to escape it. While they romanticise the purity and ‘eco-friendliness’ of subsistence farming, for the poor themselves such farming is not a trendy lifestyle choice, as allotment-loving greens in the West like to think. It’s a condition of poverty which most would surely escape if they had the chance. The fact that millions prefer to live in cramped and often unhygienic conditions in big cities over staying in the countryside is testament to this.

No Western farmer would willingly till their land with a shovel and hoe, which is what is being offered to Third World farmers in Oxfam’s Unwrapped range of ethical gifts. No British teenager would settle for a Hula Hoop for Christmas – so why does Christian Aid think kids in the developing world would love one? African children would probably rather get the latest iPod for Christmas than a set of pens or some school books, which UNICEF suggests ‘can mean so much to children who have so little’.

But perhaps the poor should just smile and be grateful (preferably whilst posing for an Oxfam catalogue)?

By focusing on alleviating the most crude manifestations of poverty, NGOs are denying poor people in the developing world any realistic chance of achieving material comfort. Here in the West, magazines advertise gifts for men and women who ‘have everything’, but when it comes to the developing world, the prevailing sentiment seems to be that ‘beggars can’t be choosers’.

The only ethical thing would be to ditch gifts like primitive loos, dung and other stinking insults, and insist that only the best is good enough for everyone this Christmas.

Nathalie Rothschild is commissioning editor of spiked.

Previously on spiked

Nathalie Rothschild thought it was time to unwrap ‘Oxfam Unwrapped’. Sadhvi Sharma explained why patronising Christmas gifts get her goat. Rob Harris urged us to ditch the ‘nostalgia for mud’. Or read more at spiked issue Christmas.

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Topics World