Creating Change for Farmed Animals in Zimbabwe
Yvonne Gurira (’22, LLM, Zimbabwe) shares how she is raising awareness about the detrimental effects of battery cages on chickens through an innovative campaign in Zimbabwe.
For those who may be unfamiliar, battery cages are a housing system used for animal production, with the name coming up from the arrangement of rows and columns of identical cages connected in a unit as in an artillery battery. During the colonial era and post-independence, battery cages were unpopular in Zimbabwe as farmers concentrated much on crop farming. Crops such as wheat, tobacco, and corn were exported showing the intensity in crop farming. Livestock farming was also common. However due to climate change which has resulted in poor rainfall patterns and drought in some regions of the country affecting crop farming, most small-scale farmers and individuals are resorting to chicken farming.
Intensive production has led to rampant confinement of chickens (broilers and laying hens). Due to lack of space there has been an increase in the use of battery cages to confine laying hens. Whatever the justification may be, the battery cages are cruel to chickens and directly compromise animal welfare. Through my nonprofit, Animal Advocates International (AAI), which I created during my LLM studies, I am raising awareness about the cruelty of battery cages through a campaign against their use in Zimbabwe. The work has been well-received and farmers have been receptive to change that would improve the conditions for chickens. This blog provides an overview of battery cages and our campaign to replace them.
This limited space size of a battery cage limits the behavioral exercises of chickens such as perching, foraging, and dust bathing thereby causing boredom and frustration to the chickens. Furthermore, laying hens spend two years suffering in battery cages only to be moved out when they reach the non-laying point stage. Chickens are prone to numerous bone diseases. Chickens in battery cages lose feathers of their neck area due to the constant rubbing and contact with cage wire whilst accessing food and water. Chickens enjoy no fresh air as they live in filthy conditions, without chicken manure being removed from the fowl run. Battery cages negatively impact chicken welfare.
What Does the Law in Zimbabwe Say about Confinement?
In Zimbabwe, Section 3(g) of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCAA) makes it an offense to unnecessarily tie up or confine any animal or permit such confinement. A person found guilty of such can be liable to a level five fine (or the equivalent of $43.00 USD) or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 6 months, or both. A fine of USD $43 is relatively low and not deterrent enough. Moreover, the PCAA throughout its provisions does not explicitly state how farmed animals like chickens should be raised. The Act sets forth that acts of ill treatment, cruel confinement, overloading of animals etc. are offenses. It does not, however, provide a specific conduct that ought to be protected or prevented by the Act. This leaves uncertainty as to whether battery cages fall under offenses notwithstanding the fact that they have proved to be cruel to chickens. To the extent the law prevents confinement of chickens through battery cages, it is not being enforced. As a result, farmed animals remain at risk of suffering cruelty by virtue of the “unclear nature “of the Act. Animal welfare laws are too often considered trivial in nature in Zimbabwe.
Again, the general populace is ignorant or is unconcerned about the animal cruelty laws or animal welfare issues. The majority believe that animals are just creatures who exist to be subjected to human exploitation and do not consider their welfare. This has resulted in the suffering of chickens in battery cages.
Animal Advocates International (AAI) Is Creating Change for Farmed Animals
To help reduce the suffering of chickens in battery cages in Zimbabwe, AAI has been holding community talks raising awareness to stakeholders in the farming industry on animal welfare standards and animal cruelty laws, as well as encouraging farmers to move away from the battery cages to a free-range system which is not cruel to chickens. The stakeholders include farmers, agricultural extension officers, veterinary officers and other community influential persons such as headmen and councilors. The law enforcement agents will also be included in the awareness program. AAI has conducted several workshops/ trainings with the above-mentioned stakeholders in places such as Mashonaland East and Mashonaland West districts. We are educating all stakeholders about animal welfare standards and crimes against animals.
Farmers and all the stakeholders in the chicken farming industry are welcoming our program expressing gratitude for our training. Because of our awareness program, farmers are acknowledging that indeed battery cages are cruel, and they compromise the welfare of chickens. They are showing willingness to shift from battery cages and adopt a cage-free system in order to improve the welfare of the chickens. The only challenge is that farmers lack financial resources to self-fund their adoption to a cage free system. Farmers need to be assisted with materials such as fences and poles to implement the free-range system.
Why should we end the use of battery cages? Battery cages are cruel and a threat to animal welfare. As Gandhi, the Indian lawyer has said, “the greatness of a nation and its moral progress must be judged by the way its animals are treated”. The Zimbabwean poultry farming industry must move away from battery cages to free range. Let’s abolish the cruel battery cage system and free the chickens.
We are grateful to Professor Russ Mead, Holly Corn and Jonathan Kaufelt, the Center for Animal Law Studies and all our other sponsors for making this project possible for making this project possible.
About Yvonne Gurira, a lawyer from Zimbabwe, is a recipient of the International Advocates Animal Law Scholarship and received the 2022 Outstanding Animal Law LLM Award. She attained her law degree from the University of Zimbabwe in 2010. After obtaining her degree, she worked with the National Prosecuting Authority of Zimbabwe as a Principal Public Prosecutor for nine years, prosecuting wildlife crimes from the Magistrates Court up to the High Court of Zimbabwe. As a student, she founded Animal Advocates International. She obtained her Animal Law LLM in 2022.
The Center for Animal Law Studies (CALS) was founded in 2008 with a mission to educate the next generation of animal law advocates and advance animal protection through the law. With vision and bold risk-taking, CALS has since developed into a world-renowned animal law epicenter, with the most comprehensive animal law curriculum offered anywhere. In addition, CALS is the only program that offers two advanced legal degrees in animal law (an LLM degree and a Master of Studies degree for non-lawyers, both degrees are offered in person and online) and multiple animal law clinics and experiential learning opportunities. CALS’ Alumni-in Action from more than 20 countries are advancing legal protections and making a difference for animals around the world.