Are China and India the most promising countries for animal advocacy? A systematic country comparison
When considering a new charity to start, the question of which country to target is an important one. This post explains the process for prioritizing countries and how this system is applied to different countries.
Most of the time, the decision is not obvious. For example, China accounts for ~48% of the total global production of farm animals but received only a small percentage of funding and attention compared to the USA, which that accounts for only 1.95% of total production.
Global production of farm animals
Does it mean that China should be prioritized over other countries? Given the political and legal situation, such as strict governmental regulation of NGOs or lack of animal protection laws, progress in this country might be less tractable. Additionally, with almost all large problems, the absolute scale of the problem isn’t the most important factor to consider. That’s because almost always, the relative impact of work in a given country is not going to be capped because we reach the maximum scale of animals that can be affected, but because it is going to be slowed down or stopped by other factors much faster than they will by the total capacity of the problem. For example, if in China there is only $100,000 of total funding for animal activism, it doesn't really matter how big the animal production is from the scale perspective as long as it’s much larger than we are likely to help effectively with $100,000.
Another example would be India. The country is responsible for almost 10% of the global animal production due to its extremely large population, and despite a high vegetarianism rate. It would be naive, however, to infer that India is highly promising for animal advocates purely based on this national production figure. Many policies to improve the lives of animals in India would be realistically implemented not on a national level but on the level of individual states; the same is true, of course, for large countries like the United States. Changing policies at the level of the Indian national government is immensely difficult and likely too intractable. In practice, animal advocacy groups operating in India should therefore mostly focus on changing state legislation, which is much more tractable. For this reason, figures on national-level animal production and human population might be misleading in cases like India and the US, and state-level figures are much more meaningful. Importantly, not all Indian states are created equal: After all, they vary in size from a large country (200 million in Uttar Pradesh) to a medium-sized city (1.5 million in Goa). These considerations matter a lot when we are comparing India to other countries. Nobody would think to compare Germany to Africa when choosing a country to operate in, yet India has a bigger human population than the whole African continent. When considering what location to work in, often there is more detail required than national population or animal production numbers. This is one of many examples illustrating why we tried to look at many factors simultaneously when selecting a country to work in.
Another issue when choosing the country is the difference between the net production of animal products and net consumption. When we analyze the data, the results show a correlation of only 0.35 between production and consumption of fish in a given country. That means only 12% of consumption in the given country is explained by the production. And indeed, the list of priority countries is different for those two variables. This means that a country should be prioritized based on the approach that is going to be used there. For example, Bangladesh is the fourth most promising country (from the scale perspective) to work in when addressing high production. Therefore, higher welfare standards for animals can be ensured through corporate outreach and governmental lobbying. However, Bangladesh is in the 116th place when analyzed from the perspective of the overall consumption of animal products, so focusing on individual change to promoting veganism or reducetarianism or increasing access to contraceptives is much less promising.
Considering those factors and other factors, we came to the conclusion that the most promising countries to research deeper are those characterized by:
For example, according to FAO’s data, Bangladesh seems to be one of the most promising countries. It accounts for 3.10% of the global production of animals, much more than the USA or any European country, where most of the animal advocacy organizations now operate. Additionally, Bangladesh seems to be progressive in its food policy. For example, Bangladesh was the first country to be approved for the commercial release of GMO crops. Approval was passed from the ministries of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and Agriculture (MoA). This suggests that those ministries might be progressive also on issues related to other aspects of agriculture.
Based on research into the above criteria, we’ve chosen 22 countries for a deeper dive to determine where we should start a charity. We researched each country individually and gave them a score on nine criteria:
Based on this system, we think that:
Although this list offers us a good overview of how promising a given country is, it is not the ultimate information you should base your decision on. It should be modified if you are planning to use a specific approach or an ask. For example, India might score above average if you take into account all the factors, but the regulation of NGOs seems particularly limiting. If you are planning to improve management of dissolved oxygen levels through governmental regulation, then India will be a particularly bad country because of relatively small fish production and the hostile stand on non-profit organizations. Comparatively, Taiwan might only be 0.2 SD better than India, but when we take into account their position on international NGOs, and more conducive regulations when it comes to policy-making combined with high fish production, it makes Taiwan much more promising. This research should be used as a starting point, not as an ultimate answer.
Our full spreadsheet, with all the ratings, as well as links to the 1-5-page summary reports, gives specific descriptions as to why certain countries received certain ratings. Each full report is a summary page with key information and is followed by a section of rough notes (generally in the 10-20 page range). Each report was time capped at five hours, so they are limited in both scope and depth. Therefore, we are keen to get more information on any of these areas that could change the prioritization.
For some approaches, such as corporate governmental outreach, the impact of asks that might be implemented could be increased by expanding those new policies to a cooperating country, so we also grouped them based on the trading agreement between countries to provide additional input that will inform our decision and took an average score for the group.
Many of these countries have a relatively limited animal charity presence and a small chance of developing it, which gives us more confidence there is room for additional counterfactual impact-focused charities to be founded. When considering the most important charities to found, we expect many, although not all of them, will be best founded in priority countries. We also expect some of these countries to change over time. For example, if a large charity was founded in Vietnam, that would change how promising the country is for new charities to be founded in the country and thus lower its priority.
Many thanks for Vicky Cox who contributed greatly to this research as a part of her internship at Charity Entrepreneurship by researching all the information needed to rate the countries on all criteria.