Many were shocked this summer when Bolivia rejected Bill Gates' and Heifer International's donation of thousands of live chickens to address "hunger." Anyone who's "living in extreme poverty is better off if they have chickens," wrote Gates. "Chickens are small and stay close to home" and can help feed children in poor families he said.
Ce'sar Cocarico, Bolivia's minister of land and rural development however, was offended by the offer which betrayed ignorance about the country and its agriculture and was viewed as patronizing.
Every year, Heifer International, an Arkansas-based live animal charity, mails its saccharine Christmas catalogue to drum up donations. The photos of animals and children are cute--last year they even put animals in Christmas sweaters--but there is little proof live animal gifts work says charity examiner GiveWell.
"Are there systems in place to teach people to care for their new animals?" asks the Verge. "Who determines who gets a chicken and who doesn't, and will that distribution foster ill will? How would introducing livestock to a community or region impact existing economies? And, most importantly, do the recipients even want the gift?"
The Verge is right. How are people who are already poor going to feed and shelter animals? How will they provide veterinary care when they probably have scant medical care themselves? (Heifer International's aquaculture operations to pull poor ghetto kids out of poverty in Chicago ending in all the fish dying twice.) How will poor people prevent the devastation of animal-to-human diseases such as avian and swine influenzas? How will they keep animals from being stolen? Are live animals a gift...or a "feel good" charity that actually creates more problems for the poor?
Visitors to villages that have received Heifer International gifts have reported whole flocks of birds dying from diseases and children sleeping with the animal to safeguard them.
Parents in the U.S. have complained about the "lessons" taught at Heifer International's "Global Village" program in Perryville, AK where school kids get to witness animals being killed. One mother wrote the local TV station to say her son continued to be haunted by the screams of a rabbit as its neck was broken.