What is Animal Farming in Rural Zambia Like? A Site Visit

Factory farming in the United States and other developed countries is no doubt terrible. And while other developing countries are catching up in their sophistication, it is not clear yet what factory farming is like in the least developed parts of the developing world where most aid is focused. Instead, most rural livestock in the developing world is kept in a pastoral farming system that is relatively “free range”. However, little information is publicly available on the internet about what this is like or how much animal suffering is involved relative to the developed country horror of factory farming.

One such site visit exploring what this looks was seen in GiveWell’s 2012 Kenyan site visit (for example, this photo). To gather a bit more qualitative information on what animal farming could be like, I commissioned a different site visit to Zambia. Using Vipul Naik as an intermediary, I paid $570 to Sebastian Sanchez (“Sebas”) to visit and report on farming in Zambia[1] during the course of his already pre-planned trip to Africa. This money was to compensate Sebastian for his time and his costs of travel and doing business. I explained the project to Sebas as “consisting in visiting facilities and qualitatively assessing farming and agricultural practices for nonhuman animals”. Sebas arranged his visits with the help of a local guide. His guide also connected him with a taxi driver. Both of these people were compensated by Sebas via the money I provided.


First Visit: Abattoir

Media here (pictures and video!): https://www.facebook.com/seba.sanchez.3998/media_set?set=a.10156676891004377.1073741837.634404376&type=3&pnref=story

On 1 September 2017, with the help of his guide, David, who introduced him to a taxi driver named Muulu, Sebas visited one of two slaughterhouses in Livingstone, Zambia where he was staying. Sebas was able to get permission to enter the abattoir after tipping the wife of one of the workers. The other slaughterhouse was more modern and could be seen from this slaughterhouse.

In the slaughterhouse, chickens can be seen roaming outside freely. In a Facebook comment, David clarifies that this slaughterhouse is only for slaughtering cattle, whereas pigs would typically be slaughtered by the owner at home. Throughout the videos, Muluu describes that cattle owners would bring their own cattle in to be slaughtered. The slaughter process which is said to involve shooting cattle with a bullet that is supposed to kill instantly. Sebas observes that the place is generally unhygienic and full of flies. While animal skin of ill animals is burnt in a furnace, decaying animal skin from healthier animals can be seen in the open.


Second Visit: Large Farm in Countryside

Media here: https://www.facebook.com/seba.sanchez.3998/media_set?set=a.10156677566689377.1073741838.634404376&type=3&pnref=story

On 3 September 2017, Sebastian visited the countryside with his guide, David, his taxi driver, Muuluu, and one other unrelated person and headed to a farm which had several facilities scattered across a large state. This farm belonged to a white man of Afrikaner descent who claimed to have about 7,000 hectares of land in Southern Zambia. The farmer was hostile toward David and Muulu as he claimed to be concerned about robbery from locals. The farm owner was informed that the video recording was part of a research project. The farm owner did not accept any tips.

Sebas tipped an employee of the farm about five dollars, and the employee showed him a large poultry area. The area was said to contain 3700 chicken in 1750m^2 (0.43 acre), which is about 0.5 square meter (~5 square feet) per chicken. This is comparable to, if not a little better than, the density of an American factory farm, however, here the chickens were not in cages and could freely move around. (For further comparison, a standard sheet of paper is about 0.7 square feet.) Later on, the farm owner demonstrates intensely confining three chickens to a small cage, but says that the confinement is actually slightly better than the European standard.

Sebastian notes that in his travels he felt like chickens were the most frequently farmed animal and the animal people most frequently eat. Separately, Sebas saw live chicken being carried by their wings while the person holding them was riding a bike.

Later, Sebas is shown by the farm owner a bunch of cows that freely range with a good deal of space. The farmer claims to care about avoiding animal cruelty and avoids needlessly beating his animals. The farmer says he avoids putting too many chickens in one cage mainly to avoid robbery. The farmer told Sebas a story about robbers who inexpertly killed a cow for the meat and the cow agonized for a long period of time. The farmer says he shoots his animals himself to avoid excess cruelty.

The farmer invited Sebas to stay longer afterwards, but Sebas turned him down.


Third Visit: Rural Village

Media here: https://www.facebook.com/seba.sanchez.3998/media_set?set=a.10156685699114377.1073741839.634404376&type=3&pnref=story

After visiting the farm, Sebas and David went to the village of Siyakasipa, which is very poor and not English speaking. (English is widely spoken in Zambia, even by kids.) For the most part, the cattle range free. However, during a drive, Sebas could see cattle kept in a pen. While the pen was not particularly intense confinement, the cattle were definitely limited in their range of motion and it did not appear like they had access to adequate food or water. David explains that the cattle in the village are killed with an axe.



[1]: We originally had talked about visiting Tanzania, but Zambia ended up being more convenient for Sebastian.

Comments (5)

Comment author: zdgroff 23 February 2018 01:45:48PM 3 points [-]

This matches what I saw in Ghana when I lived there for a few months. Interestingly, I lived with someone in the agriculture corps, an initiative by U.S. ag to promote its image by helping developing countries. I think it probably has the effect of putting them more firmly on a factory farming path, sadly.

The ag corps member would always talk about how terrible animal husbandry in Ghana was, and I was pretty shocked. After all, at least the chickens, goats, and sheep roamed freely. She noted that but said that they eat garbage, and their slaughter is frequently botched. To me, eating garbage seemed like a very small harm next to living your life in a tiny stall or extremely crowded barn. At the end of the discussion, I realized that she thought their animal husbandry was worse than that in the U.S. because her college ag classes had equated good animal husbandry practices with standard industrial practices, so sloppy practices–even if they allowed for more freedom–were worse in her view.

Comment author: avacyn 20 February 2018 03:54:48PM 2 points [-]

Really interesting and worthwhile project!

People sometimes discuss whether poverty alleviation interventions are bad for animals because richer people eat more meat. Do you think your findings affect this discussion?

Comment author: Peter_Hurford  (EA Profile) 20 February 2018 05:05:21PM 5 points [-]

People sometimes discuss whether poverty alleviation interventions are bad for animals because richer people eat more meat. Do you think your findings affect this discussion?

More on that soon!

Comment author: Larks 19 February 2018 09:47:39PM 0 points [-]

a standard sheet of paper is about 7 square feet.

Do you mean 0.7 square feet?

Comment author: Peter_Hurford  (EA Profile) 19 February 2018 10:22:04PM 0 points [-]

Yes. Thanks. Fixed!