African Refugees Spurring Bush-Meat Trade

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(Related news: "World Refugees Number 35 Million" [June 16, 2003].)

Since 1961 more than 20 major refugee camps have been created close to game reserves, national parks, or other protected areas with easy access to wildlife. As of 2005, 13 of those camps remained.

Nutritionally Balanced?

In Swahili the word used for bush meat means "night-time spinach," because it's often cooked in the dark. The illegal trade peaked in the mid-1990s when the rush of Rwandans poured into Tanzania, according to the TRAFFIC report.

In that time, an estimated 7.5 tons of illegal bush meat were consumed per week in the two main refugee camps of Kagera and Kigoma.

(Related news: "'Bush Meat' Crisis Needs Urgent Action, Group Warns" [May 22, 2001].)

Wild meat is cheaper than local beef or goat and represents a more traditional food for some refugees, according to the report. Selling bush meat also provides refugees with an opportunity to generate income.

Refugee camp rations, as provided by groups such as the World Food Programme and UNHCR, typically consist of a blend of cereals, vegetable-based proteins such as beans, cooking oil, porridge mix, and sugar, which provide 2,100 calories a day per person.

The rations are designed to be "as nutritionally balanced as possible," according to Penny Ferguson, East Africa spokesperson for the World Food Programme.

In the past two years the program has often been able to supply 85 percent of the basic daily rations, Ferguson said.

"[The World Food Programme] is donor-funded, and when we're not able to provide the full food basket, it's because we haven't received full support from the donor," she said.

Ferguson added that the organization has never been able to supply meat as part of a refugee's daily ration.

"For reasons of storage and cost, meat is not included," she said. "Particularly in this part of the world, meat is prohibitively expensive."

Need for Meat

But some experts believe the absence of meat in refugee diets must be remedied by aid agencies.

"The scale of wild-meat consumption in refugee camps has helped the international community to conceal its failure of meeting basic refugee needs," Jambiya, the report's author, said in a statement.

In addition to ending ration shortages, part of the solution lies in a legal, sustainable trade in wild meat to feed refugees and the local communities, he added.

"Meat could be bought and sun-dried or smoked, and small amounts could be made available," Jambiya told National Geographic News.

"Right now it's driven underground, and that makes it more difficult to know what has been taken."

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