Working Animals’ Role in SDGs and Addressing Climate Change, Pandemic Crises

It is time to recognise the role of working animals in livelihood systems, addressing climate change and human health: it has been overlooked for too long.

Three farmer families help each other to plough their small
farms and seed them as monsoon arrives in Warangal district in
Andhra Pradesh, India. Credit: Manipadma Jena / IPS

By Mike Barker and Roly Owners
NEW YORK, Oct 14 2020 (IPS)

As we prepare to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the �Food and
Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), it is time to
recognise the role of working animals in livelihood systems,
addressing climate change and in human health, which has been
overlooked for too long. The Working Animal
Alliance
seeks to change this. 

As we seek cost-effective and innovative solutions to help
achieve the SDG’s, we would do well to recognise that working
horses, donkeys and mules have been instrumental in the development
and maintenance of civilization for millennia.

While they may be considered ‘old technology’ by some, they
remain a versatile green power source. Not many people know that
more than 100 million working animals continue to sustain the
livelihoods of more than 600 million people, many of them at most
risk of being left behind.  

Environmentally-conscious forestry already uses working animals
in logging as their impact on sensitive woodland is much lighter
than mechanised machinery.  Working animals are able to take the
most direct route to a destination so there is little need to build
new roads

For communities where motorised transport is either unavailable,
unaffordable or impractical, working animals can be the difference
between life and death.  They enable people to fulfil their basic
needs, providing access to water, food, firewood and medical care. 
They can also alleviate poverty, as they enable people to generate
an income. 

For instance, from Cambodia to Romania, horses are used as
draught power to plough fields. In Central America, they are
integral to rural and urban economies, pulling carts full of goods
to and from market or used in refuse collection to keep city spaces
hygienic.

In Colombia, they carry coffee beans from plantations and across
Africa, horses, donkeys and mules carry food for other livestock as
well as serving as taxis, people carriers and moving vans. Working
animals are used to transport medical tests in Lesotho, children to
school in Honduras and water to villages in Mexico. They allow
people to participate in community saving schemes in Ethiopia, and
provide families with the income to pay for their children’s
education.  

In fact, these roles are undertaken by working animals across
all continents, to some degree, yet their relevance to livelihoods
has been largely invisible to policy makers and governments.
Development organisations and institutions such as FAO acknowledge
the importance of livestock such as cattle, goats and pigs to food
security, but the working animals which help supply their feed and
water – and support the lives of livestock owners – are still
largely under the radar.  

There are many reasons for this.  One may be that working
animals are ‘part of the furniture’ of civilisation – always
present and therefore invisible.  People living in communities
where working animals are common admit to not even noticing
them. 

Conversely, in many industrialised nations, working animals may
be considered old fashioned and niche, even though they still play
roles in transportation, tourism and livestock raising.  Another
reason may be that the people who rely on working animals tend to
be the poor and marginalised due to geography or socio-economics,
so they do not have a strong voice. 

Yet another reason may be that some nations do not want to
acknowledge many of their citizens still rely on working animals in
their economies, focusing instead on their progress towards
mechanisation.  Why support an apparently outdated way of doing
things when the march is on to modernise?

There are three factors that should cause us to embrace the use
of working animals. The first is the SDGs themselves, which working
animals already help to achieve. Were there policies supporting
them and ensuring they were healthy and productive, the benefits of
using them would increase.

For instance, a working horse in Senegal costs around $400. If
owners were supported with knowledge to provide better basic care
to that horse or donkey, and if there were skilled affordable local
service providers available to provide vital hoof and veterinary
care, they could use their asset for more than ten or 15
years. 

However, without this, that horse could quickly become lame or
die, and so unproductive, leading to hardship for the family– so
requiring the already struggling owner to invest another $400 to
get back to square one. 

The second factor that should awaken us to the relevance of
working animals is climate change.  Working animals as mentioned
above are a tried and tested green power source. Not only can they
survive happily on grasses and plants, but they emit less methane
than livestock – and horse manure is an effective and widely used
organic fertiliser. 

 

It is time to recognise the role of working animals in livelihood systems, addressing climate change and human health: it has been overlooked for too long.

Coconut farmers in Mafia Island, Tanzania, rely solely on
donkeys as the mode of transporting their products from farms to
markets. Credit: Alexander Makotta/IPS

 

Environmentally-conscious forestry already uses working animals
in logging as their impact on sensitive woodland is much lighter
than mechanised machinery.  Working animals are able to take the
most direct route to a destination so there is little need to build
new roads. Working animals do not require parts made of scarce
metals nor are they dependent upon the price of fossil fuels. And
when a working animal dies, it can be absorbed back into the
earth. 

Thirdly, it has long been understood that human and animal
health are closely intertwined, and we ignore this at our peril –
as we have seen with COVID 19. The UNEP has recently pointed out
that 75% of all emerging infectious diseases are from animals and
they do not exclusively emanate from wildlife.

Domesticated animals and livestock can be carriers too, as seen
in other previous epidemics such as Middle East Respiratory
Syndrome (MERS) in 2012 and Avian Influenza Virus H7N9 epidemic in
2013, and now with the current pandemic. Safeguarding the health
and welfare of vital working animals is therefore of utmost
importance in protecting the health of people. 

Some are awakening to the importance of working animals – for
instance the OIE has worked with the International Coalition for
Working Equids (ICWE) to develop basic guides to equine welfare and
the World Bank is seeking to implement these in their
programmes.

However, the fitness and health of working animals has relevance
far wider than the realms of veterinary medicine and agriculture.
This is why we have established the Working Animal Alliance – an
informal network of NGOs, countries, development agencies and
organisations to help raise awareness of the role of working equids
in achieving the SDGs and the need to provide systems of support
for owners to better care for their most important asset. 

If you agree it is time to respect our working animals and
appreciate the contribution they make right now, as well as in the
future preservation of our sustainable planet, then please join
us.

 

Mike Barker is CEO of The Donkey Sanctuary
and Roly Owners is CEO of World Horse Welfare

The post
Working Animals’ Role in SDGs and Addressing Climate Change,
Pandemic Crises
appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
Working Animals’ Role in SDGs and Addressing Climate Change,
Pandemic Crises