THE BLOG

World Food Security - It's Time to Stop Ignoring the 'Beasts of Burden'

16/11/2015 13:52 GMT | Updated 16/11/2016 10:12 GMT

Food security is a major global issue. There are many facets of this complex issue, but there is a critical one that continues to be overlooked. This blind spot amounts to ignoring one of the most useful aides to people in the developing world, and the loss of a huge opportunity for international development. It is the contribution of working horses, donkeys and mules.

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Livelihood - defined as the means of securing the necessities of life. Things like food, water, an education. But it's not exactly something we think about every day. Sure, in the developed world we think about our work (probably too much), or whether we have enough to provide for our children. More and more of us are also considering where our food comes from. But the journey to the shops, to work, around work - the methods of obtaining these necessities - that can be taken for granted.

Animals are embedded in people's lives the world over. We eat them, and consume and wear the food and materials they produce, including eggs, milk and wool. But, for the most part, in the UK we don't use animals to obtain our food, income, or education.

The reality for 600 million people, many of them living in the poorest and most marginalised places in the world, is that without their working horse, donkey or mule their livelihood would falter and fail. The worker in the brick kiln shifting bricks to be fired, the farmer ploughing in Ethiopia, the miner carrying coal out of a mine in Pakistan, or the smallholder in Kenya transporting milk to the co-operative dairy. The examples are endless, and the one thing in common is the equine companion. Working livestock; horses, donkeys and mules performing a multitude of tasks to earn their owners money, reduce the domestic burden and save them hours of work every day.

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This is not a small issue. There are 112 million working horses, donkeys and mules pulling, carrying, and toiling across the world. They're climbing the mountains that motorised transport can't reach, and they're working in the construction yards. In the home, they relieve the burden of household tasks like obtaining water and gathering food. They even transport the feed and water given to the food and fabric producing animals.

Of course the animals that produce the food and clothing are essential, which is why the contributions of, and reliance on, chickens, cows, pigs and goats have long been recognised in international development programmes. They are counted, health-checked, vaccinated and protected by law. It's the vital roles of horses, donkeys and mules that are the blind spot for policy makers. The Brooke has listened to owners of working equines living in the developing world, and our new report 'Invisible Workers' uses evidence provided by them to show that these animals undertake a multitude of money earning and labour-saving roles.

If people don't have horses, donkeys and mules, it means losing income and having to spend more time doing the household tasks they help with like transporting families to the market, hospitals or schools. People are lost without them. The problem is that they don't always know how to keep them happy, healthy and productive.

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The Brooke is helping, with community engagement and training, but there's a limit to what this can achieve. Contrary to what you would expect, in some countries ownership of equines is increasing - a rise of fuel prices in recent years led to an increase of working animals in both Ethiopia and Pakistan, with the latter seeing a 14% rise to 5.5 million equines between 2006 and 2013. Now is the time to act.

The welfare of working equines is vital, and a development opportunity which we simply cannot ignore. I'm looking forward to meeting representatives from global actors already recognising this issue including the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the Food Economy Group today at an event in London. To help us get working equine welfare on the agenda, visit thebrooke.org