By Tim Young, KF15, Senegal
Life as a water buffalo in the Sapa region of North West Vietnam is not easy. Buffalo provide an essential source of power needed to till the mountainous rice paddies, but for much of the year they are left to roam and forage unfettered. Winters can be hard and with food scarce, many die of cold or starvation. When they can their owners feed them, but often starvation is a real threat for the people here as well. One bad rice harvest and life in these rain-sodden hills becomes perilous.
Here in Senegal working animals are also a very visible part of everyday life. Horses and donkeys provide essential transportation services, pulling their elegant carts and chariots through the sandy streets. In Mbour, where I am currently based, I have visited a number of Kiva Borrowers whose loans and livelihoods are linked to the welfare of their animals. Last week I sat drinking fresh milk with a cattle herder, while she told me about the problems posed by the lack of veterinary services and the absence of a vaccination park. The loss of even one animal through disease or injury can be catastrophic for the lives of the people here.
In general I have been very impressed by the physical condition of most of the animals here. But the link between animal welfare and poverty is self-evident. When resources are scarce, people have less to give to their animals in terms of food, time and care. In remote, agricultural communities veterinary services are most probably non-existent and education on animal welfare is a long way down the list of priorities.
So what has all this got to do with microfinance? The most obvious answer is that by increasing the wealth of families and communities, pressure on land and resources is reduced. The trickle down effect is that this water buffalo might be given a meal! And a family that can afford kerosene does not need to chop down woodland. More and more, however, conservation and animal welfare groups focus on education and sustainable interaction between humans and animals (both domestic and wild) as the only long-term solution for succesful co-existence.
Here Microfinance could play an important role in improving the lives of working animals. Loan Officers are not just money collectors (*1); for MFIs with a social mission they are also often counsellors, consultants and teachers. Known by all, they are highly visible and often influential members of their community. Providing support and advice to clients in operating their businesses is an important part of their role, and simple animal welfare techniques can go a long way. If treating a horse better will improve the longevity of the horse and so the profitability of a business, then let them eat oats!
The following two organisations are charities that I think are doing great, innovative work in the fields of education and conservation; work which could potentially sit easily alongside microfinance.
The Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad (“SPANA”)
SPANA is a UK-based charity working for the benefit of animals in the world’s poorest countries. Their approach is to educate and to help poor families look after their animals, creating hard-working happier animals and wealthier more secure families. In their own words:
“If an animal falls sick or is injured, then the family it supports may go hungry and fall deeper into poverty. We believe that by ensuring a working animal is well and healthy, it can make even more of a contribution to the lives of those who depend on it. ”
While domestic animals will presumably always be with us, the fate of the world’s shrinking wild habitats and species is less certain.
The Cheetah Conservation Fund (“CCF”)
Amongst other excellent projects, CCF has come up with an innovative solution to allow herding communities and their domestic livestock to live alongside wildlife. Herders are provided with an Anatolian Shepherd, a sheep dog of ancient lineage from the steppes of Asia Minor. Bred to guard flocks, an Anatolian Shepherd will challenge any predator (even lions) that threatens its charges, fighting to the death if necessary. For most predators, however, a couple of barks is enough to persuade them that this meal is not as easy as it first appeared, and they move onto more traditional prey.
How much is that doggy in the window?
Both of these organisations do great work as charities, but these concepts would be relatively easy to monetarise and would sit easily alongside microfinance or social enterprise. A micro-loan to buy an Anatolian Shepherd? Loan approved! The short-term economic benefits are quantifiable and immediate, the longer term environmental consequences are potentially invaluable.
Train loan officers to teach basic animal welfare? Healthier businesses, wealthier clients, more opportunities! Done and done!
(*1) For more on the many roles of loan officers see Kiva Fellow Nila’s excellent post: http://fellowsblog.kiva.org/2011/05/26/nathans-office/
Tim Young is currently a Kiva Fellow working with one of Kiva’s field partners, UIMCEC, in Mbour in Senegal. If you’re interested in microfinance and how it can be used to promote development in all its aspects, why not get some experience first-hand with the Kiva Fellow’s Programme. Find out how here: http://www.kiva.org/fellows