Cows, camels and goats are a crucial store of value in many countries. They provide meat, milk and clothing, they can be a quasi currency and can be passed on to children. In some countries, they are used as a kind of high interest revolving loan – you borrow a pair of breeding animals, look after them til they have young, then return the breeding stock and raise the calves yourself. The economic role is buttressed by cultural factors – owning livestock brings status and respect.
So livestock are valuable, multi-purpose assets (like money, only cash or bank accounts don’t provide you with milk) but, unlike other assets (houses, machinery, pots and pans, money), animals can die and lose their value overnight, especially during droughts or floods.
An interesting recent BBC piece on hunger in Niger mentioned in passing that the FAO is distributing animal feed for people’s cows as part of its anti-famine work. The FAO cattle-feeding programme will both keep the cows alive, and discourage people from distress-selling their assets at the rock bottom prices that characterize a crisis.
This got me thinking about the importance of smoothing the impact of shocks on livestock as well as more directly on people. Which prompts the thought, what else could be taken from our burgeoning interest in social protection (see recent post) and applied to livestock?
Possible: child benefits could become calf support grants. Cash transfers (presumably to humans, not cows) could be made conditional on having your livestock vaccinated. Any other candidates?
[Unlikely: cow pensions, unemployment benefit]
And if people do have to sell their cows, could governments, perhaps using aid money, buy them at decent prices and set the same price for restocking after the rains return?
Presumably lots of social protection-type stuff is happening already – over to the livestock community to fill us all in