Working Livestock and the Sustainable Development Goals: in pictures

The 75th United Nations General Assembly takes place between 17 Sept and 5 October, and the UN is marking its 75th anniversary by focussing on all of the Sustainable Development Goals. We wanted to mark this by showing how horses, donkeys and mules contribute to achieving a lot of these goals, living alongside humans and other livestock. 

SDG 1: No Poverty

Now included in the definition of livestock by the United Nations, horses, donkeys and mules generate income through their work in agriculture, construction, extractive industries, tourism and transport. 100 million of these animals support the livelihoods of 600 million people in some of the world’s poorest countries. 

Guatemala: A horse carrying firewood for its owner and likely the family home, supporting their lives. Photo: Richard Dunwoody MBE

coal mines

Men work with donkeys in remote coal mines in Pakistan to send money to their families. Photo: Freya Dowson

SDG 2: Zero Hunger

Horses, donkeys and mules work in agriculture and food production: soil tillage, producing manure fertilizer, and transport of livestock, feed, water or produce to the market. Income from other work that they do helps the owners buy food for their families.

Farming and food preparation in Keyna, Burkina Faso and Senegal. Photos: Freya Dowson, Justice Nnyigide

A horse pulls a cart of vegetables in India. Photo: Freya Dowson

SDG 3: Good Health and Wellbeing

Working animals generate income that helps families pay for medical bills. In remote areas and during disasters and emergencies, the animals provide the fastest and most reliable transport to a health clinic. Around the world, interaction with animals reduces stress and contributes to wellbeing and good mental health.

A mother plays with her baby in rural India, as their mules graze in the background. Photo: Atul Loke

Young boys wash their horse in rural Senegal. Photo: Freya Dowson

SDG 4: Quality Education

The work performed by working livestock generates income that helps families pay for school fees and supplies. In remote rural areas horses and donkeys transport children to and from school. 

Children with equines in Kenya and Guatemala. Photos: Petterik Wiggers, Freya Dowson, Richard Dunwoody MBE

A boy sharing a moment with his horse in India. Photo: Atul Loke

SDG 5: Gender Equality

Women across the world depend on working livestock to support them with time consuming tasks such as fetching water. Income from working animals helps women pay for household essentials. Caring for and owning animals gives them a sense of agency and increases their social status. 

A woman sets out with her donkey to gather water in Kenya. Without her animal, she would need to transport water for many miles all by herself. Photo: Petterik Wiggers

Women using their horses and donkeys in India and Kenya. Women use their animals to collect materials and take products to markets, helping them to make money and empower themselves. Photos: Atul Loke, Alex McBride. 

SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation

Working animals provide access to water for people and to all food producing animals. Without their help, people - especially women and girls who may be taken out of school - often have to walk for hours to fetch water from remote sources.

Donkeys carrying water in Ethiopia. 

A family transports water in Senegal. Photo: Justice Nnyigide 

SDG 13: Climate Action

Horses, donkeys and mules boost community resilience in the face of disasters and climate shocks. They enable communities to collect water or food from greater distances, helping families to relocate when needed, and even rebuild infrastructure.

Donkeys delivering emergency supplies in the aftermath of an earthquake in Pakistan 

SDG 15: Life on Land

Millions of people depend on the labour and income their working animals provide. However, the increasing demand for donkey hide products puts the long-term income of millions of families at risk. The trade also represents a growing biodiversity threat if donkey numbers dwindle, and an increased risk of disease spreading if donkeys continue to be illegally transported across borders.

Children protest against donkey theft and the donkey skin trade in Kenya. Photo: Brooke

A man and his donkey at their home in Kenya. Photos: Petterik Wiggers

SDG 17: Partnership for the goals

The vital contribution of working livestock to sustainable development is largely overlooked. By working together, organizations that focus on human development, animal welfare and the environment can help meet the SDGs by 2030.

Some photos featured in this article show examples of welfare or handling that aren't best practice. However, they show the reality of everyday life for working equine animals and their owners. Brooke concentrates on where the need is greatest, and works hard to improve welfare practices