Defeating factory farming is an international task and Farm Forward has identified the world’s largest democracy, India, as the nation where our support can provide the greatest per-dollar impact.
Since 2013, Farm Forward has worked to identify and help fund some of the most innovative programs working toward humane and sustainable agriculture in South Asia. Our granting programs especially aim to empower India’s hundreds of millions of farmers1 to find their own unique path to resist factory farming, preserve rural life, enhance community health, and create animal agriculture systems that are both humane and productive.
Internationalizing the Fight Against Factory Farming
Global meat production has increased by more than five times since 1950, and while people are eating less meat in the US, factory farming is the fastest growing method of animal production worldwide.2 In India and China, especially, meat production is on the rise,3 and due to the scale of their populations, their future effect all of us. The environmental problems caused by factory farming, like climate change4 and pandemic influenza,5 know no boundaries and the animals that produce the meat we eat in America are often raised abroad. The bottom line is that with our globalized economy, factory farming anywhere in the world is a threat to animal welfare and ecological stability everywhere in the world.
If we’re going to truly defeat factory farming, we can’t be content with victories only in the US, Canada, and Mexico—we must especially seek to turn back the progress of the factory farm in the world’s most populous nations, India and China, before it’s too late. India, as a fellow democracy with a developed and free media, is a natural ally. And action in India today can have an outsized impact precisely because India still has comparatively low rates of meat consumption and, while factory farms now dot the countryside, traditional systems of farming are still widespread.
Unlike in the US where we now face the expensive, challenging process of rebuilding traditional, higher-welfare methods for raising poultry, in India we simply need to preserve and expand the innovative traditional systems already producing so much of India’s animal products. Unlike in America, where farmers and consumers alike have forgotten the value of heritage genetics as cheaper hybrid chickens came to comprise 99 percent of the market, Indians still recognize the superior value of slower-growing birds. In the areas where we are providing grant support in South India, locals typically pay up to more than double the amount for heritage or “country birds,” as they are referred to locally.
Farm Forward began developing partnerships with local animal welfare and pro-traditional farming groups in India when the director of the Eating Animals documentary, Christopher Quinn, asked for our help telling the international side of the factory farming story. We introduced Christopher to several of the Indian citizens that will be featured in his documentary, including veterinarian Dr. Mandhaven Sugumaran (“Dr. S”) and animal advocate Clementine Paus. In the course of forging relationships with these and other remarkable people, we saw just how much even modest donations could achieve in the Indian context. After three years of rigorous vetting, we’ve identified partners and projects that we know make an outsized difference, stretching charitable dollars to achieve the most good.
Our most influential and empowering work to date includes providing financial support to Dr. S and his allies in The Nilgiris region of India as they resist the encroachment of industrial farming and support poor rural farmers in more than 36 villages for less than $35,000 annually—less than $1,000 per village. The Nilgiris is a beautiful, mountainous region featuring five national parks and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Through our support, our allies in The Nilgiris have provided emergency veterinary relief for small farmers facing pandemics like hoof and mouth disease, launched a campaign to help repopulate local heritage birds, and even started work on an animal shelter on donated land.
The most developed ongoing program is a pilot program distributing Indian native heritage breeds to small farmers who recently transitioned to hybrid birds. In addition to the animal welfare benefits and higher market value, the use of local Indian genetics is crucial to allowing Indian farmers to retain their independence from agribusiness. If local poultry genetics are lost in India like they have been in the US, farmers will be forced to buy hybrid strains from industrial hatcheries. We’re working with these partners to evaluate the success of the pilot and its potential impacts.
Work to promote humane and sustainable farming in the Indian context is simultaneously work to protect wild animal species as well. The complex ecosystems of this area mean that our allies must develop farming systems that are not only higher welfare but also compatible with local efforts to protect forest species, including elephants, panthers, and tigers. A holistic approach is essential.
Finally, our work with our Indian allies is important for another reason: Indian farmers are doing a lot of important things right and we have something to learn from them. Farm Forward prides itself on having helped pioneer some of the most innovative and effective techniques—like corporate campaigns to win incremental improvements—that are now widely used in the US anti-factory-farming movement. Whether we’re supporting high-impact projects in India or promoting the best of Indian innovations, we believe our work to internationalize the movement for truly humane, sustainable, and just animal agriculture will be key to defeating the factory farm.
Please consider a recurring monthly donation of $85 or more to provide basic free and subsidized veterinary care to an entire village in The Nilgiris. Write “photos please!” in the comment area of the donation form and we’ll have our Indian partners send photos of how your dollars are being put to work.
Small donations make a huge difference, too: a recurring monthly donation of only $5 can support one additional free veterinary service to help a farmer in need.
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- Prachi Salve, “How Many Farmers Does India Really Have?”, Hindustan Times, August 11, 2014, available here.
- WorldWatch Institute, Factory Farming in the Developing World, World Watch Magazine, May/June 2003, Volume 16, No. 3, available here.
- Worldwatch Institute, Global Meat Production and Consumption Continue to Rise (Washington, DC: 2013), available here.
- Gerber, P.J., Steinfeld, H., Henderson, B., Mottet, A., Opio, C., Dijkman, J., Falcucci, A. & Tempio, G.2013.Tackling climate change through livestock – A global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome.
- Worldwatch Institute, New Meat Byproducts: Avian Flu and Global Climate Change ,World Watch Magazine, January/February 2007, Volume 20, No. 1, available here.