Unless you have been hiding under a rock for some months, you will realise that people are starving in the Horn of Africa.

A first-world cow causing misery. Pic: Flickr

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation considers 12 million people at risk in a region that includes Ethiopia (82m), Kenya (39m), Somalia (9m), Uganda (32m) and little Djibouti (1m). The figures in brackets are national populations and imply that 12 million is only only about 7 per cent of people in the region.

But you know the risk to each and every one of them is serious when Bob Geldof is wheeled out in a suit. Geldof, in a recent press conference, felt compelled to remind people that those at risk are intelligent, creative and resilient people who are suffering enormously.

Geldof’s claims about the glowing personal attributes of the 7 per cent who are starving were made without evidence but indicate that he understands the difficulties that many have, certainly white urban monolingual Australians, in identifying with the usual images of hungry black jabbering people that appear from time-to-time in between the football and media frenzies over the Labor leadership.

The proof of Geldof’s claim is immediate in the 93 per cent who are using that intelligence, resilience and creativity to cope with a really tough situation.

Ethiopia, for example, is a bit over half the size of Queensland but feeding 18 times more people. That’s bloody impressive.

Particularly since they only import about 6 per cent of cereals most years. The industrious Swiss typically import 50 per cent of their cereals.

But the starving African images in the bad times aren’t matched by any images of Africans in the good times, so Australians get a highly unbalanced picture from news sources.

On the other hand, there really are some serious long term problems with the food supply in the region which see many children undernourished and stunted, even when they are not starving before TV crews. These problems are rooted in eerily familiar attitudes.

If we had Ethiopia’s population density, we would have the same problems for very similar reasons. Like Ethiopia, we have ingrained attitudes that prevent us making the most of our food production potential. Happily there are forces in Africa working successfully to change the attitudes and practices that shape the crux of the problem.

But before delivering the good news, we need to understand the problems. So it’s time for a quiz.

Which has the most cattle, Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya or Queensland? I mention Sudan (30m people) because while it isn’t on the canvas today, it’s almost always on the ropes and suffers the same structural problems that will keep it there without change.

If you can’t answer the question, then you will never understand the problems.

Here are some clues that may help you guess the answer. Sudan is about the same size as Queensland (185 million hectares) and Queensland has about 11 million cattle which graze 81 per cent of the state.

Ethiopia is much smaller than Queensland at 110 million hectares but with over 80 million people.

Kenya is less than a third the size of Queensland with 41 million people. In case you are wondering, Queensland only has 4.5 million people.

So can you now estimate those bovine statistics? Perhaps another clue may help.

Heifer International is a charitable organisation with funding from Bill and Melinda Gates, among others. It apparently perceives a shortage of cattle in Ethiopia and pretty much everywhere else on the planet, so it donates cattle to help deal with that shortfall.

Is there a cattle shortfall? Not bloody likely. Ethiopia has about 50 million cattle, Sudan has 40 million and pip-sqeak Kenya has 12 million. All three countries have more cattle than Queensland. Now, just how did Queensland accommodate those 11 million cattle?

Easy, for a couple of decades until very recently, Queensland was the per-capita deforestation capitol of the world.

Great bulldozers carved through the dry forests in South Eastern Queensland at a rate sometimes exceeding half a million hectares per year, echoing the great wildlife extinction wave driven by the sheep industry in the 19th and early 20th century.

Ethiopia’s 50 million cattle eat far more biomass than its 80 million people and are the true measure of the national impact on the environment. What do they provide? Are Ethiopians getting fat on burgers? Hardly.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, all those cattle provide less than 3 percent of daily calories, and that’s the total when beef and milk are combined. Cattle function primarily to reduce soil productivity while providing men with surrogate V8 utes to worship and trade. They are status symbols.

In Kenya, custom usually allows livestock to graze crop residue without permission, thereby robbing fragile soils of both cover and soil carbon that would other wise be returned to the soil when the residue broke down.

But cattle are grazers, so there are plenty of things they won’t eat. Hence, if you really want to desertify an area properly, you need to add a browser, something that can eat rougher foliage. Enter the humble goat. Cattle and goats form the perfect dynamic desertification duo.

The catastrophe gets worse as western aid agencies try to curry favour with people by giving them animals. This is like giving whiskey to a drunk. Does Africa have a goat shortage? I guess that depends on whether you think 300 million goats is enough.

The last sad coup de grace, in a very literal sense, is delivered when poor families cook with cattle dung. This robs the soil of nutrients and compromises childhood health. The smoke sickens and kills their children, it’s that tragic and that simple.

This is boverty. Bovine induced hardship on a continental scale. And if you think the small amounts of meat actually work nutritional miracles to compensate for the concomitant poverty and destruction, then you’ve been played by decades of meat industry spin.

Check the research, it isn’t true. But there is some good news.

In Kenya at least, there is a program turning things around. Herders are being taught to produce food.

Traditionally, women produce the food while men and their cattle act as a giant anchor chain. The whole process is rather like a poor Australian family kept poor by feeding a fuel guzzling V8 ute whose primary purpose is to pick up slabs at the pub on a Friday night.

As part of the Kenyan program, thousands of herders are being persuaded to reduce or eliminate their herds. Children who would have ended up perpetuating the cycle of boverty are learning to grow real food.

These are similar to school garden projects in Australia, but on a much bigger scale. At a Narok primary school, the 800 students have planted an 11 hectare garden. The impacts have been huge.

A much better diet, income from excess crops, better school results as a result of improved nutrition and a role model for the wider community who now realise the value of crops rather than a tenuous existence as herd followers. Even the local elephant population has discovered the wonders of a real garden compared with bush tucker. Fortunately, an electric fence now keeps the peace.

Africa is remarkably well placed to produce food in all kinds of conditions. It has a wondrous supply of well adapted and nutritious indigenous plant foods. Increased use of these resources has indeed occurred in Ethiopia and elsewhere since the horror famine of 1980s. Typically, it is women who have been doing the work while the boys are off playing cowboys and hunters.

I’ll sketch some details of just three of the dazzling variety of underutilised African foods.

First, the Baobab. We have varieties of this spectacular tree these in Northern Australia. Both the fruit and leaves are widely eaten in western Africa but the leaves are particularly fascinating. They are 10 to 17 per cent protein with a pretty well perfect mix of amino acids.

Also high in critical vitamins and minerals, they are already a staple in some areas and of growing importance. Far less nutritious but with a fearsome reputation as a food that can get you through any drought is the Enset.

A member of the banana family, this is actually a root vegetable and a single root can provide 40 kilos of food. A small group of plants can feed a family indefinitely.

Areas of Ethiopia which have adopted Enset cultivation are reportedly free of food security issues and are also said to enjoy superior nutritional status. The latter is surprising, but would take too long to explain.

Many Ethiopians began growing Enset following the horror starvation marches of the 1980s. The survivors adopted Enset cultivation which they learned in the highlands.

The down side of this plant is that its preparation is highly labor intensive, so again, it’s the women who do the work while the men are off watching their cattle starve.

Lastly, the Safou is a popular fruit in many parts of Africa, but is of particular interest because its pulp is high in both protein and energy. It’s levels of lysine, leucine and threonine (amino acids) are similar to those found in eggs and much higher than in normals staples like wheat or rice.

Geldof was right. Next time you see footage of desperate black people either too weak to speak or apparently jabbering in a language unlike any you have ever heard, think of the ones you aren’t seeing. They are off harvesting a myriad of foods, processing them in sometimes very sophisticated ways and making a go of it.

Now, login to the on-line donation page of the overseas aid agency of your choice and make a donation, but make sure your money doesn’t pour petrol on the fires of boverty.

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48 comments

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    • Mahhrat says:

      05:55am | 04/10/11

      You make some worthy points, and there is certainly a good discussion to be had here, but you’ll get neither until you stop addressing us like we’re idiots.

      In Australia, we should be farming Kangaroo, for much the same reason you say the Africans should be tilling crops.  The ‘Roo is evolved to our conditions.  The Army base at Puckapunyal in Victoria has to go out every year and cull the things, there are so many.  They breed like rabbits - why we aren’t farming them instead of cattle, I’ll never know.

    • marley says:

      06:28am | 04/10/11

      @mahrat - I take your point when it comes to meat, but I don’t think kangaroo milk or cheese would be high on my list of delicacies.

    • Nathan says:

      06:33am | 04/10/11

      i actually don’t really see a need to farm Kangaroos, its not like their is excessive demand (to my knowledge i admit). We have enough of them being culled and countries and trade blocks not wanting Roo’s because of stressful petitioning by Animal Rights groups.

      If demand was there for sure. I don’t protest to be an expert on this but i would of thought that the government should invest in trying to get Kangaroo as an alternative cheap meat for the asian market

    • acotrel says:

      07:04am | 04/10/11

      @Nathan
      Kangaroo only ?  Dolphin is yummy too ! And what about all those bambis who are running around destroying our bush !

    • Mahhrat says:

      08:44am | 04/10/11

      @Marley, that’s true, but cow milk’s not that great for us anyway.  Cheese most certainly is not.

      Roo meat is easily the healthiest meat you’ll find - 1% fat, full of protein, and once you’ve learned how to cook it properly, damn it’s tasy.

    • marley says:

      12:48pm | 04/10/11

      @mahrat - aw come on.  How are you gonna have a decent pasta without a sprinkling of parmigiana on it?  And Indian food tastes lousy without a little raita to help it along.  And burritos without sour cream?  Perish the thought.  As for my daily cappuccino (with skim milk), well, like the man says, moderation in all things.  A little cheese from time to time is like a little chocolate, one of life’s treats.

    • Mahhrat says:

      01:10pm | 04/10/11

      @marley, I agree and I love love love cheese, but if the real solution was to make it a luxury item that costs a lot so that other people aren’t actively starving, then in the end that might be our only choice.

      For a non-dairy dairy treat though, you might try Tofutti with chili sauce - tastes just like chilli philli, but is good for those that can’t tolerate lactose.

    • Geoff Russell says:

      01:14pm | 04/10/11

      Why do you think kangaroo meat has never taken off? Is it because Australia has too many vegans? Not likely. It has never taken off because they are a dismally unproductive animal ... as far as producing fresh meat is concerned and because almost no-body likes it.  Why do you think we produce so little but still have to export it all over the world to get rid of the stuff? Most roo meat has to be sold as processed meat because it is junk and processed meat was precisely the stuff that the World Cancer Research Fund told everybody to eliminate from their diets entirely.  It’s about 3 times more potent as a cause of bowel cancer than fresh red meat.

      Can the kangaroo advocates please do their homework and find out
      how much kangaroo meat we produce?  Then ask themselves why,
      with so many sheep farms going bust since 1990,  there wasn’t
      an explosion of kangaroo numbers and consequent rise in the kill quota.

      The extremely small number of domesticated species in the history of the planet isn’t an accident. Wildlife has never provided much food.  Hunting is a dismally unproductive enterprise, which is why our
      ancestors invented farming.

    • Rossco says:

      06:33am | 04/10/11

      Geoff, your picture looks like you have a face half full of meat pie or something. Better change that photo.

    • acotrel says:

      06:36am | 04/10/11

      ‘Ethiopia, for example, is a bit over half the size of Queensland but feeding 18 times more people. That’s bloody impressive. ‘

      It makes a joke of those silly comments about Australia becoming over-populated ?
      Of course we are now supposed to be all sympathetic for the starving people of Africa?  Perhaps we should do something about climate change and take some responsibility ?

    • Nathan says:

      06:55am | 04/10/11

      Its just that people don’t want to be over populated by the” wrong people” based on colour and moral judgments

    • L. says:

      09:44am | 04/10/11

      ” Perhaps we should do something about climate change and take some responsibility ?”

      Why..?? Was the Sudan ever a garden of Eden..?

      This article is a load of crap. Even if our pityful carbon tax did help…which it won’t… it is been estimated that 25% of continential Africa’s GDP is simply stolen by corrupt government officials.

      I’m happy to help, once I see evidence of the Africans stamping out the major problem.

    • RyaN says:

      09:57am | 04/10/11

      @Nathan: Yeah nice try. The fact that you even brought race into such an argument just goes to show what a blatant racist you are.

    • Aussie says:

      02:00pm | 04/10/11

      You forgot to mention how much of Queensland has a reliable water supply. which parts don’t get rain for decades, then disappear under a sheet of water for months on end. Yes there is a lot of vacant land in Queensland, and Australia, but there is no water there, it’s not suitable for growing food or running more stock than at present. Then there’s salinity, erosion etc.

    • Erick says:

      07:10am | 04/10/11

      This article focuses on excessive numbers of cattle, but sweeps aside the issue of excessive numbers of humans.

      Why do all the articles on starvation in Africa ignore overpopulation? Is it some tribal taboo, where any writer who points out that there are too many people for the land to sustain must be sacrificed to the volcano god?

    • Shane* says:

      07:54am | 04/10/11

      Geoff’s article is overpopulated… with words…

      Oh yeah. I went there.

    • acotrel says:

      08:56am | 04/10/11

      @Erick
      There is a famine in Ethiopia caused bt a drought due to climate change.  It has nothing to do with oversexed women denying men their right to celibacy !

    • Shane* says:

      09:10am | 04/10/11

      @acotrel
      Drought due to climate change? Like the drought of ‘73 or the drought of ‘84? Or ‘91? Or the fact that for centuries the entire Horn of Africa has gone through regular periods of drought?

      In the past these droughts were battled through with less-than-catastrophic loss of life. The only difference today is that there are many more people, which makes any mitigation of the drought’s impact much more difficult.

      This drought has a long way to go before it becomes uniquely severe (in climate terms) for the Horn of Africa, so pinning the blame on climate change is hugely presumptuous.

      Erick’s right. The problem is overpopulation.

    • Mark G says:

      09:18am | 04/10/11

      Erick,

      Exactly right. The problem is overpopulation. Overpopulating cattle in these countries is simply a desperate and poorly thought out solution to human overpopulation. More people more cows. What Geoff says about crop orientated agriculture being more sustainable is true but even that is a problem in an overpopulated country. You still need to clear huge amounts of land to plant crops and one thing that Geoff has missed is that a lot of the land in those countries is not suitable for crops because the land is not arable and water supplies are very limited (same problem Australia has).

      My last point leads me to the problem with the hypothesis in this article. The flaw to Geoff’s idea is the assumption that you can useful crops anywhere. That crop agriculture only requires land. The reason they resort to cattle and goats is because the land is not useful for much else and never has been. I do however agree that there are large areas of East Africa that are suitable for crops rather than live stock and are more frequently used for live stock because of cultural trends (this is the part of Geoff’s point that is true). This is an issue that even Australia has not come to terms with.

    • Mark G says:

      09:23am | 04/10/11

      The root cause of climate change is overpopulation and therefore if you argue that the cause of the drought is climate change, the root cause is still overpopulation (just on a broader scale).

    • Mark G says:

      09:46am | 04/10/11

      Another issue that I have with this article is that Geoff identifies himself as an animal liberationist. I have heard the same arguments from fanatical vegetarians claiming that we should all be vegetarians because it is more sustainable. This type of argument is and liberationist argument in disguise. The points that Geoff raises are good but I question his intent.

    • old fart says:

      10:01am | 04/10/11

      I have to say acotrel, it’s related la nina rather than climate change. It oscillates, we get rain with la nina and africa suffers, we get el nino and africa gets rain.  mind you I partially agree with Erick but I think tribalism plays a larger role, there are no national agendas or programs to get through times like this it’s all down at warlord level

    • Anubis says:

      12:24pm | 04/10/11

      @ acotrel - stop doing a Bolt and get your facts right. The current hunger in Ethiopia is not a result of climate change. A lot of the problems are a result of corruption, mad dictators and a total lack of support of the population by the government. Why do you lefties always blame this sort of crap on climate change. Try dictators, muslim brotherhood, tribal altercations and straightforward corruption.

    • acotrel says:

      12:38pm | 04/10/11

      @markG
      If an area is sustaing a certain population, and the climate changes due to the actions of people high consuming countries so that droughts become more frequent, you cannot blame overpopulation for famine !.  That is simply blaming the victims.  It’s like claiming the Pacific Islands are overpopulated when they disappear under water, and cannot sustain a previous level of population !

      What you are claiming is that the current level of severe flood, drought, storms is ‘normal’.  I suggest it may well be part of the normal distribution which is at an extreme end of the graph, if the sample extends over three thousand years. !

    • Geoff Russell says:

      01:03pm | 04/10/11

      1) Of course population is a problem.  But as I argued, who eats more biomass, a million people or a million cattle?  The capacity of a country to feed itself might depend on its human population or on its animal population. In the case of Sudan, Ethiopia and more than a few others, its the livestock that consume the most biological output. 

      2) Even more important, most of the “OMG you forgot population” commenters never have any suggestions on what to do about the problem that can make a difference. This is particularly true of
      the global population and climate change. See the following:

      http://bravenewclimate.com/2011/09/19/population-no-cc-fix-p1/

      which looks in concrete terms at the impacts of various hypothetical
      population control measures.
      But there is something that can be done about livestock population and it will make a difference.  In my experience, people who focus on population simply use it as an excuse for doing nothing ... “no I won’t drive a smaller car no no car because the big issue is population” ... nor “no I won’t change my diet because you didn’t mention the biggest issue which is population”... etc.

    • thatmosis says:

      07:37am | 04/10/11

      They may be starving but every picture you see is a mother with half a dozen children running around her and a child on her hip. Stop them breeding like rabbits would be the first thing to do before they wipe themselves off the face of the planet. The UN spends billions each year on the same problem but its just ongoing, stop the free food and make them grow their own using the money from the UN to provide wells and seeds and machinery to till the land and harvest the crops. As the old saying goes,” give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he will eat every day.” This waste of money and it is a waste cant go on as people are beginning to question why they should give to an ongoing situation without any light at the end of the tunnel.

    • michael j says:

      10:13am | 04/10/11

      @ Yeah good one n just where is this so called fish hiding cause i dont seem to be able to him,and if they have fish in them dried up water holes they propbably ani’t got bait,,
      and if the article is correct on those huge amounts of cattle they have, why don’t they knock a few on the head for food ?

    • Con Dom says:

      07:50am | 04/10/11

      If we give food to these poor people, then the trade off should be a birth control as Africa cannot sustain any more people without outside help

    • Geoff Russell says:

      01:24pm | 04/10/11

      Africa can feed double the population ... according to the US department of Agriculture.

      http://soils.usda.gov/use/worldsoils/papers/africa3.html

      Why do you think the Chinese are busily buying up land in
      Africa? They’ll have no trouble growing food on it.  But if all you know how to do is follow your cattle around, then you won’t know what to
      do when they die.  Sure Africa should control its population, but that will take a long time to have any effect and there’s plenty she can do right now to solve her problems.  Some countries, like Nigeria, are doing it. Nigeria feeds 150 million people with a tiny land area because the livestock to human ratio is low.

      It doesn’t help when western aid agencies
      foster counterproductive strategies by giving people animals.

    • mick says:

      07:50am | 04/10/11

      There are always calls to help the hungry.  I feel for people who are less well off than lucky Australians.

      One cannot miss the irony that the world population of 6 billion people is forecast to increase to 9 billion in 40 years time.  This is the insanity of it.  We can’t feed the world now, so why add 3 billion more people to the pool.  Here in Australia we have big business which has made the decision that we will grow by 13 million people in the same time frame.  Insanity is one word, ignorance and outright negligence is another.

      There should more work to get all nations, especially third world nations, to reduce their populations so that people do not go hungry and so that the ecological systems are not totally destroyed.  When people realise that we are a monoculture and start to give a damn then maybe some sensible decisions will be made by governments.  The illogical ‘business model’ of ongoing growth has to end or else we will.

      So what do we do for the starving millions?  I don’t know, help as best we can.

    • rusty says:

      08:01am | 04/10/11

      The humble cow is really getting it these days - first, Macca burgers, then carbon emissions, now they are responsible for Africa’s poverty as well. So get rid of all the cows and then half humanity’s problems are over.  Yeah, sure. And pigs fly.

    • Easy says:

      08:34am | 04/10/11

      ..they do? I always thought that was a joke.

      Anyway, a flying pig seems a pretty good food source. They can nest in all those magnificent boabab trees and eat the whatever percent protein in it and then kids can make sport of climbing up to club the fledglings out of the nests.
      Problem solved. Next crisis.

    • Still Easy says:

      09:03am | 04/10/11

      Miniature flying buffalo are good too - you know, the things we get buffalo mini-wings from?
      I could survive on buffalo mini-wings and little else indefinitely… they’d have to eat less than a normal sized cow - cos they’re miniature - and since they’re a flying thing, they can just fly to a new food source when the current one is depleted.

    • Anna C says:

      08:51am | 04/10/11

      I have two words for you: birth control.

    • Direct says:

      09:05am | 04/10/11

      And not a single mention from Geoff about Zimbabwe, the former food bowl of Africa, where productive white farmers were evicted and had their land forcably seized by a corrupt government bent on rewarding it’s cronies, who proved incapable of managing these farms.

      Shall we talk about the elephant in the room?

    • Mark G says:

      09:30am | 04/10/11

      Yes and many other examples like the Muslim extremists, pirates and other militant gangs in Somalia who have ruined the agricultural industries by scorched earth tactics to prevent their rivals from benefiting from them.

    • Huey says:

      10:30am | 04/10/11

      Geoff, interesting and informative. Herds of V8’s at Deniliquin too.

    • centurion48 says:

      10:52am | 04/10/11

      @Direct: If you eat tobacco or cotton Zimbabwe was the food bowl of Africa. One possible reason Geoff didn’t mention it is because it is not located in the Horn of Africa and doesn’t have huge numbers of either cattle or people - but if it suits yours purposes to introduce it then go ahead. There are plenty of problems with Zimbabwe and the way that Mugabe forcibly stole the land that the white men stole from the black men was very badly handled - much like native title grants in Australia. If you care to write an article on the troubles in Zimbabwe then I promise to read it but until then it is a red herring to the article written by Geoff.

    • Art says:

      11:40am | 04/10/11

      Ethiopia’s population was
      38 million in 1980
      51 million in 1990
      65 million in 2000
      82 million in 2010

      All of this natural growth and despite high rates of emigration.

      Does anybody see a problem in this.

      Are these countries creating their own problems.

    • Ruairi says:

      01:25pm | 04/10/11

      This.  If Ethiopia’s population has doubled in the last thirty years, then surely they must be doing pretty well.  Of course, having Western governments continually bailing out African populations who serially make poor life choices (having half a dozen kids each, continually attempting to massacre the tribe next door) means that when the proverbial does hit the fan, the result is enormous amounts of suffering.

    • biotene says:

      12:07pm | 04/10/11

      capitalism does not work.
      europe and america produce too much food .
      africa produces too little food.
      the overproduction of europe and america should be sent immediately to africa.
      instead, the overproduction goes into storage or into waste,
      why is capitalism so stupid? is capitalism an economic or a social or an environmental disease/

    • marley says:

      12:53pm | 04/10/11

      @biotene - Right, ship all the surplus food from Europe and America to Africa, in one fell swoop wiping out the incomes of local farmers, destroying the agricultural industry, and ensuring the dependence of Africans on handouts for another few centuries.  Brilliant.

    • libertarian vegetarian says:

      02:49pm | 04/10/11

      America and Europe produce too much food because of government subsidies and school lunch programs.  Thats agri-socialism, not capitalism.

    • Justin says:

      03:22pm | 04/10/11

      OK, so Qld is slacking & could easily have more cattle.

      Couple that with a reduction of cattle in the horn of Africa & we could then get live exports heading there on a massive scale to cover the shortfall.

      Win-win!

    • Mark D says:

      10:43pm | 04/10/11

      Geoff Russell hits the nail on the head when he says that giving animals to people in those African nations is equivalent to giving whiskey to a drunk. You would struggle to do anything more unproductive and wasteful than to raise cattle in order to feed people. As Geoff said, The FAO, the United Nations Organisation, stated that the 50 million cattle in Ethiopia provide less than 3 percent of daily calories for 80 million Ethiopians, with beef and milk combined. That says it all.

    • marley says:

      06:04pm | 05/10/11

      I should have done a bit of research into this article earlier.

      Ive just had a look at the project being funded by the Gates Foundation and Heifer International (which has nothing to do with Ethiopia) and also at one project which Heifer itself is funding in Ethiopia. 

      This article, if it refers to either of these, grossly distorts the nature of the projects.

      The Gates/Heifer project, which is about Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, is focused on improving the quality of dairy cattle on existing dairy farms, and on building regional milk chilling plants so that the small dairy farmers can actually earn some income from their product.

      It’s not about shipping in more cattle, but about improving the quality of the existing cattle herds through better nutrition and artificial insemination.  It’s about teaching better, more ecologically sound farming practices and about making sure the milk can be cooled and processed or transported before it sours.  It’s about giving small farmers a chance to move past subsistence farming.  And as the press release on this points out, dairy provides a year-round income.

      I also looked at a project Heifer is actually doing in Ethiopia, one of the results of which has been improved vegetable productivity - because, damn it, they’re teaching better farming practices. 

      I am frankly disgusted at the way this article has presented the projects being undertaken.  Geoff cites a a school garden in which 800 kids are planting vegetables on 11 hectares.  The Gates/Heifer project is geared at helping 180,000 dairy farmers improve their income.

    • Geoff Russell says:

      10:58pm | 05/10/11

      I gave the school garden example to be concrete. The Kenyan project has, according to the article linked above, touched 55,000 herders, so it isn’t insignificant. But it is precisely the scale of the Heifer projects that make them so damaging.  Consider, if you will the situation in Australia during the late 1990s, there was a massive growth in the dairy industry ... thousands of farmers improving their incomes ... but it was never sustainable, it was always ecologically silly. The Murray Darling Basin paid a heavy price. Now,  a decade later and the herd has dropped by 700,000 animals (from a peak of 3.2m). The situation is not much different in Ethiopia. Helping people to make money from an inefficient unsustainable and polluting industry is counterproductive when you could, instead, help them to make money out of far more useful and sustainable foods.

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The Punch is moving house

Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…

Will Pope Francis have the vision to tackle this?

Will Pope Francis have the vision to tackle this?

I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…

Advocating risk management is not “victim blaming”

Advocating risk management is not “victim blaming”

In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…

Nosebleed Section

choice ringside rantings

From: Hasbro, go straight to gaol, do not pass go

Tim says:

They should update other things in the game too. Instead of a get out of jail free card, they should have a Dodgy Lawyer card that not only gets you out of jail straight away but also gives you a fat payout in compensation for daring to arrest you in the first place. Instead of getting a hotel when you… [read more]

From: A guide to summer festivals especially if you wouldn’t go

Kel says:

If you want a festival for older people or for families alike, get amongst the respectable punters at Bluesfest. A truly amazing festival experience to be had of ALL AGES. And all the young "festivalgoers" usually write themselves off on the first night, only to never hear from them again the rest of… [read more]

Gentle jabs to the ribs

Superman needs saving

Superman needs saving

Can somebody please save Superman? He seems to be going through a bit of a crisis. Eighteen months ago,… Read more

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