Festive Gifts: A donkey is for life...

'Charities have rejected claims that the animals harm the land, saying they are only offered after consultation'
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The Independent Online

They are the festive season's most talked-about gifts: goats, donkeys, camels, alpacas, even bees. The idea is that if you buy one of the animals up for sale this Christmas from a wide range of charities, you will help to improve the lives of the world's poor.

But will you? According to Animal Aid, an animal-rights group, the gifts might do more harm than good. Andrew Tyler, its director, says: "It's another mouth to feed. Animals are complicated in terms of their needs. They swallow up a lot of resources of water and feed that otherwise could go to people.

"If the animals are neglected they are subject to disease, which is potentially catastrophic for them and for the people who are trying to profit from them. I think that it burdens people additionally.

"If we in the rich West want to intervene, we should intervene in a particular way with things like irrigation, tree planting, fodder and veterinary care."

The World Land Trust believes that such schemes could have a devastating effect on the environment. "Livestock in Africa has gone from 274 million in 1960 to 655 million by 2005, causing widespread desertification. Anything that encourages further increase is going to cause further poverty," John Burton, the charity's director, says.

"I think you need to be very, very careful about which charities you donate to and ensure that they have carried out proper environmental impact assessments. I'm not saying don't do it, because some of them possibly are OK."

But the charities have rejected the claims, insisting that the animals are only offered after extensive consultation with local people. A spokeswoman for Christian Aid says: "We take advice from our partners, who know their local environment, as to what livestock are appropriate for a particular area.

"When people buy an animal as a 'virtual' gift from the Present Aid catalogue, the money goes into an agriculture and livestock fund. This money is often spent in tandem with other funds, such as the water and environment fund that offers tree saplings, community taps and wells, and the training and education fund that offers seed and tool packs."

World Vision also stands by its work. The charity says: "All gifts in the Alternative Gift Catalogue have been requested by the communities in which we work to help reduce their specific poverty issues. Animals, and all of World Vision's alternative gifts, are only included in the catalogue once their potential impact on the community and environment has been considered and evaluated by World Vision staff on the ground and by any relevant experts."

If you're satisfied as to the credentials of an animal-gift charity, here's a selection from which to choose.

Bees

Offered by Christian Aid

Price £21 for a populated hive

Who benefits?

The money goes into the agricultural and livestock pot. The charity is running a bee project in Bolivia. Those given a hive are offered training and equipment. Money raised from the honey can be spent on food and clothes. If the rice crops fails, the honey from the bees offers another form of protein.

08453 300 500; www.presentaid.org

Sheep

Offered by World Vision

Price £29 for a ram, £57 for a ram and ewe

Who benefits

The sheep will be in a breeding project in the Kolda region of Senegal, to benefit 1,100 families. The lambs born will be passed to other families to help the community prosper. Through reinvestment of earned resources from the sheep-breeding, families will be able to fund their children's education and healthcare. Here, money buys the animal rather than going into a general fund.

08456 006 446; www.greatgifts.org

Donkeys

Offered by Oxfam

Price £50

Who benefits?

Again, Oxfam's programme for donkeys is run on the same lines as those for alpacas and goats. In the flood-prone area of Jhang, in Pakistan, donkeys and carts have been distributed to resource-poor women with families. Frequent flooding means that crop-growing is difficult, and diets are often limited to sugar cane. Markets can be up to a four-hour walk away. Oxfam donkeys are now enabling women to earn their own living.

08704 105 040; www.oxfamunwrapped.com

Cows

Offered by Help the Aged

Price £70

Who benefits?

Older people in Sudan, Uganda and Jamaica are given cows. They drink the milk and earn money from surpluses. Meat is eaten or sold. Cows were chosen after local consultation.

08001 075 770; www.cowsnthings.org.uk

Goats

Offered by Oxfam

Price £24

Who benefits?

Oxfam's goat programme operates the same way as for the alpaca above. Wima Mura, a widow in Sudan, was given three goats to share with her community. "I did not have any goats at all before," she said. "My goats started to multiply and after two years I gave three goats to my neighbour. I sold five to pay school fees and buy books for my grandchildren. I am now left with five goats, of which two are pregnant."

08704 105 040; www.oxfamunwrapped.com

Pigs

Offered by World Vision

Price £56

Who benefits?

World Vision has been working in the Keembe community in Zambia since 2003. This project provides pigs to farmers to produce food and an income. The charity works with 750 households in the community to improve their food security through having diversified livestock (also to include chickens and goats), training in animal healthcare, income from taking their livestock and produce to market, better diet and enhanced skills in small-livestock management. Some piglets will be passed on to other farming families. Money given is used to buy an actual animal rather than added to a general fund.

08456 006 446; www.greatgifts.org

Ducks

Offered by Christian Aid

Price £24

Who benefits?

The money goes into the agricultural and livestock pot. Ducks have been introduced in Bangladesh after partners on the ground suggested that they would be an appropriate livestock for that region. People rear them and eat their eggs or sell them. Ducks were introduced in Bangladesh because they cope with floods well. The animal is set to be introduced elsewhere

08453 300 500; www.presentaid.org

Alpacas

Offered by Oxfam

Price £20

Who benefits?

Money to purchase an alpaca goes into a pot and is used to buy an animal most appropriate to the recipient community. Some of the money will be used to pay for training, vaccinations and animal care, such as building a shelter. Cash goes towards an alpaca scheme in Peru, which includes the animals and training for owners in how to get the best price for their wool.

08704 105 040; www.oxfamunwrapped.com

Chickens

Offered by Help the Aged

Price £5

Who benefits?

Chickens are also on the menu for older people in Sudan, Uganda and Jamaica. They are farmed or kept to provide eggs for consumption, or to rear chicks to sell or to provide more eggs. Again, this has followed consultation with communities and an assessment of the location, and money raised will be restricted to international development work.

08001 075 770; www.cowsnthings.org.uk

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