Why Heifer International is Rolling in Dung
It almost sounds like a joke. Set up dairy enterprises in rural African villages with no refrigeration, electricity, veterinary care or passable roads for a population that can’t drink milk because it’s 90% lactose intolerant.
But the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation didn’t think it was a joke when it announced the gift of $42 million to Heifer International at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January–the biggest gift the Little Rock, AR-based Christian charity which sends live animals to poor countries has ever received.
Using cherubic, 4-H/Unicef style advertising– kids hugging the animal "gifts" they will also dispatch–Heifer pledges to stamp out world hunger in poor countries using the grain, water and grazing land they don’t have to raise animals.
To get around the lack of rural electricity for the proposed dairy operations in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, Heifer will create "chilling plants" with their own backup power generators according to a press release where the milk will be stored for pickup by "refrigerated commercial dairy delivery trucks"– both of them.
Farmers will artificially inseminate cows, perhaps by candlelight, with "high-production dairy animal semen"–more backup generators required to keep it frozen?–and increase milk quality through providing "improved animal nutrition" to the cows with the food they don’t have.
Because of children’s natural love of animals, Heifer International is a popular charity project in elementary schools–though it stresses it cannot reveal the fate of individual animals it sends overseas so don’t ask.
But teachers who go on Heifer sponsored junkets to recipient nations can come back with disturbing stories.
Like Donna Sosnowski, a fourth-grade teacher at Virginia Palmer Elementary School in Sun Valley, NV who discovered children were sleeping with their Heifer animals to keep them from being stolen on a tour of Honduras this summer, according to the Reno Gazette Journal.
And Amy Carrington, a teacher in White County, Arkansas who also toured Honduras where "villagers shared their hardships with her, such as when a disease killed off all the chickens in a particular village," reported the Daily Citizen in Searcy, AK.
Then there’s Heifer International’s Global Village program in Perryville, AK where school kids who vote that they want meat for dinner will witness the teacher break a rabbit’s neck, chop off its head, skin it and cook it.
Last year one unidentified mother emailed Arkansas’ Fox 16 TV station to say her son still talks about hearing the rabbit scream as its neck was broken when he attended a Global Village as a 5th grader.
Heifer also has the nation’s top columnist, the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof, in its thrall.
"The tale begins in the rolling hills of western Uganda, where Beatrice was born and raised," begins a PR wire style piece this month about Heifer poster child and star of the children’s book Beatrice’s Goat, Beatrice Biira. "As a girl, she desperately yearned (sic.) for an education, but it seemed hopeless: Her parents were peasants who couldn’t afford to send her to school."
PR story short, Beatrice grew up, went to college and plans to work against African poverty all because some children at the Niantic Community Church in Niantic, CN "decided to buy goats for African villagers through Heifer International, a venerable aid group based in Arkansas that helps impoverished farming families," writes Kristof in the irony-free column titled The Luckiest Girl.
"A dairy goat in Heifer’s online gift catalog costs $120; a flock of chicks or ducklings costs just $20," he adds, in case you want to donate too.
Since the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced its grant, Heifer has received an unprecedented $126.5 million in matching donations which funds a lot of Noah’s Arks–or death ships as animal advocates might say.
Despite gender dressing–Heifer claims most dairy operations are run by women–experts say animal based agriculture misuses land and resources, promotes high fat Western diets and jeopardizes human and animal health by inviting zoonotic diseases like Avian flu.
Programs like Heifer also betray a "Caucasian bias" by ignoring lactose intolerance Dr. Hetal Karsan, a gastroenterologist at Atlanta’s Emory University, told the Associated Press. Maybe pharma will send Lactaid supplements.
MARTHA ROSENBERG is staff cartoonist on the Evanston Roundtable. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org