'Buy a goat and provide improved nutrition and income generation for a family in Niger or Malawi' - UNICEF. 'Goats: packed full of nourishing delicious milk' - Action Aid. 'These loveable animals are not only an essential source of nutritious milk for an African family, but thanks to a revolving goat project families can breed them to generate income to pay for their child's education - and release themselves from poverty forever' - Practical Action. Goats were Oxfam's biggest seller last year. Everyone wants you to buy a goat this Christmas.
Sounds great doesn't it? Work off your Christmas guilt and hangover by buying a goat for a poor family in Africa or the Middle East. A goat which reproduces, creating yet more goats. But it's a mad idea.
Earlier this year I went to Ethiopia. I was astonished one day to see a goat that had managed to climb a tree, which already looked like wicker. It was eating the last green shoots. Goats eat everything. They turn pasture into desert. In the Simien Mountains, where I was, the earth is like brown talcum powder which blows away when you tread on it. Oxfam, in its defence, says that it 'only provides livestock to communities where livestock keeping is an essential or traditional way of life, and appropriate to the local environment.' But 'It's Traditional' is second-rate thinking. Traditions die out when the people who follow them die out: you only have to look at Easter Island for proof of that, where the people cut down the trees to make logs to roll the statues into place. Charities don't exist to support tradition, because tradition isn't always best. They are there to change and improve.
The charities offer other gifts. Sanitation is still the greatest problem in the third world, though pit lavatories are not fluffy or 'loveable' (a laughable idea for anyone who has watched an Arab thwacking a donkey with a stick). Just please don't buy a goat.