Dear Marian,

Thanks for the email and your interest in our livestock work with Pastoralist communities.

There is sufficient water in these areas to sustain the animals we provide as the people adopt a nomadic lifestyle and move from place to place following the rainfall and the seasons. However, the shortage of rain and its unpredictability in terms of place means these areas cannot support rain-fed agriculture.

Providing livestock is only one aspect of our overall work with pastoralists and we have recently developed a special section on our website which is dedicated to explaining our work in this area.

This site explains what we do and has external links to other resources in this area. It also has links to further resources on Pastoralism produced by Oxfam and so may answer any further questions you have about our workwith Pastoralists.

We have not worked with Vegfam in the past as they are a UK-based charity and we channel our work through locally based partner organisations in developing countries. However, if an overseas based partner organisation of Vegfam had a project that required funding , we would consider it in the same way as the many other funding requests we receive from overseas every month. Ultimately, the decision to fund a project is made by the Oxfam Programme management in the country concerned as to whether it fits in with the work they are doing.

Ken Smith.

Supporter Relations, Oxfam.

HIPPO – Help International Plant Protein Organisation:

I deeply, fundamentally, disagree however with the idea of providing more livestock for nomadic people, or indeed any people in the ‘third world’. I believe that many people have a romantic view of nomads that sees them as a species to be conserved. I have a great love and respect for nomadic tribespeople like the Masai and the Afars, and of course we (I, Hazel my wife and Mark my son) lived among the latter in Ethiopia for 18 months and enjoyed a very good relationship with them – in fact some of them used often to come to our house and eat TVP stew! They understood and respected our vegetarianism.

We have also met quite a few of the Masai in Kenya and Tanzania. But I do not believe that their lifestyle is sustainable for ever. Nor can it be harmonised with the need to produce food for growing populations, whilst attempting to reserve some areas for wildlife. The teeming livestock of the Afars and Masai have certainly helped to decimate wildlife in Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania.

As I think you know, I worked on a huge cotton/banana plantation in Ethiopia, irrigated from the Awash river in the midst of Afar land, on a wonderfully deep and fertile alluvial soil. Whilst I was on a few week’s break back in the UK, there was a drought and the Afars moved towards the river with their huge herds of camels (which they keep for wealth/status/milk and for breeding to export to Saudi Arabia and the Yemen) and cattle, and they slashed down all the banana trees to feed to the livestock. They caused absolute devastation. I could understand their needs to find fodder for their livestock, but I also understand the needs of Ethiopians at large for food and clothes (none of the banana or cotton crop is exported but all is used for home consumption).

Bulk food aid, which undermines home food production, pours constantly into Ethiopia in normal times as well as during famines. It is vitally important that the country should be able to grow more of its own food and move towards self-sufficiency. This will never happen unless or until livestock production is discouraged. The Afars certainly do not need MORE animals! Yet we have even a local group in West Wales who have taken more goats to these very Afar people in the Awash area since we were there. We find it almost unbelievable!

We are working with a local NGO in Ethiopia which does not encourage more livestock keeping but is helping people to improve their land, making best use of what water there is by harvesting and conserving water and growing crops, especially a greater diversity of beans and peas, using natural fertilizer (compost).

Thankfully, even some of the Afars are now leading a settled existence, growing crops like maize, sorghum, beans and tomatoes. Settling down and becoming growers instead of pastoralists enables them to send their children to school and to obtain medical attention when they need it. It also enables them to have a better balanced diet resulting in better health, and fewer of the awful tropical ulcers that result from vitamin deficiency.

The problem with most aid charities is that they are predominantly run by meat-eaters who are obsessed with flesh production which they mistakenly assume is a necessary part of increased health and prosperity. In the same way they might say we are obsessed with the opposite, which I won’t deny! What beats me is that so many vegetarians still prefer to support them rather than Vegfam or HIPPO! I appreciate that such charities do many good things in addition to doing the thoroughly bad one of promoting livestock and meat, but aren’t there enough meat-eaters who will support them, and shouldn’t this leave vegetarians free to support their own vegetarian charities?

Neville Fowler