Commercial Rabbitry In Uganda

Oct 26, 2013 | by B.N. Luzobe | 4 Comments

The Context of Uganda Agricultural Sector

Agriculture is the most important sector of the Ugandan economy; with more than 80% of the population deriving their livelihood from sector. It contributes up to about 23 percent of GDP, accounts for 48 percent of exports (UBOS, 2008) and provides a large proportion of the raw materials for industry. Food processing alone accounts for 40 percent of total manufacturing. The sector employs 73 percent of the population aged 10 years and older (UBOS, 2005). Agriculture is therefore a key determinant in the country’s efforts to reduce poverty.

The agricultural sector is characterised by crop farming, livestock keeping and fisheries.  Livestock and livestock products play a key role in raising incomes of households and providing a source of protein to many families. According to analysis of poverty trends using the UNHS time series data (UBOS, 2007), it was apparent that households that include livestock in their enterprise mix tend to be generally less poor.

The main livestock production systems in Uganda are: rangeland-based livestock-only systems, where more than 90 percent of dry matter fed to animals comes from rangelands, pastures, annual forages, and purchased feeds; the mixed rain fed crop-livestock systems where most of the dry matter fed to animals comes from crop by-products and stubble; and other livestock production systems include  those with very high animal density per area such as intensive poultry production, pig and cattle feedlot operations, and large-scale dairy facilities.  Many of the large-scale operations are located in peri-urban areas in close proximity to high demand areas for livestock products (Thornton et al, 2002;  Seré and Steinfeld, 1996).

As the Ugandan population increases, the pressure on land increases and the farms continue to get smaller, rendering production systems that require a lot of land unsustainable. The economic reality trends will therefore continue to favour smaller livestock with characteristics that are advantageous in the small holder, subsistence-type integrated farming and gardening food production systems.  The rabbit is one of such animals. According to Cheeke (1986), livestock for use in developing countries should, like computers, be getting smaller and more 'personal.' Mainframes, such as cattle, cannot solve the widespread shortage of meat because they require too much space for the landless and the poor.

 

The history of rabbitry in Uganda

Rabbit rearing has been practiced in Uganda since the 1870’s when Christian missionaries first introduced the animals.  However, the magnitude of the enterprises has always been pet like and the venture relegated to a children’s business. The Government of Uganda in the 1970’s imported exotic breeds (mainly New Zealand White) as an attempt to promote rabbitry but the efforts were unsuccessful. Renewed interest in rabbitry ventures was rekindled in the 1980’s with the rabbit multiplier project that was based at the then University Farm, Kabanyolo. The project suffered a setback, when most of the imported parent stock were attacked by disease and died.

Beginning 1995, a phenomenon growth in rabbitry occurred when a group of farmers interested in rabbitry formed the Uganda Rabbitry Development Association (URDA). The aim of the association was to transform rabbitry from a pet like venture into viable commercial enterprise. However, the efforts of the association suffered a setback, since the farmers concentrated on production and sale of breeding stock and paid minimal attention to marketing of the principal product, rabbit meat. Eventually the steam waned off when everybody interested had got a rabbit to rear. Lukefahr (1998) reported that for the past ten years, rabbit meat production had been promoted by enthusiasts, via the ‘rabbit craze”, as a get rich business opportunity with unlimited market potential;   both in-country and for export.

Since the late 90’s the rabbitry industry has been at low ebb with isolated efforts to revive it.  For example, the Learn Enterprises with the RABFARM in Kisaasi, the Tropical Rabbits Farm in Buloba, and scattered farmers in Mpigi, Masaka and Mukono districts.  Training of the undergraduate students in the Faculties of Agriculture in Makerere University and Gulu University has continued (Mr. Waiswa, Personal communication).

The other factors that have contributed to the failure to commercialize the rabbit industry are:

  • Lack of technical knowledge and resilience among the promoters and adopters. Many people posed as masters on the subject and circulated wrong information on management and marketing.
  • The over pricing and inability to present dressed rabbit meat leading to the failure to compete in the meat market and sustain interested consumers.
  • Predators and thieves that affected the farmers and they lost the morale to continue and expand.

 

Justification of commercial rabbitry for Uganda

Rabbits have a number of attractive production characteristics, such as small body size, short generation interval, high reproductive potential, rapid growth rate, genetic diversity and the ability to utilize forages and by-products as major diet components that make them suitable as meat-producing small livestock in developing countries. Rabbit meat is of high quality, being high in protein and low in fat content. Rabbit production can be integrated into small farming systems, with the rabbits being fed crop residues, weeds, waste fruits and vegetables, etc; the manure can be used as fertilizer for crops and gardens. Suitable cages, feeders and other equipment for rabbits can be made using readily available materials such as split bamboo and raffia palm. 

The justification of rabbit rearing is premised on their easy management, high productivity, superior food and nutrition potential and positive relationship to climatic change agenda.

Management of Rabbits: Rabbits are small bodied, requiring less space and input (for stock and housing) than large livestock.  They fit well into a balanced farming system as they complement well with vegetable growing and can be fed on excess and waste from vegetable gardens and kitchen.   Rabbits do not compete for grains with humans as strongly as chickens. Their manure is used to fertilize gardens, thus forming a profitable cycle and aiding the balance of nature. These characteristics make rabbitry an important enterprise in areas where there is shortage of agricultural land and for the vulnerable and resource poor, especially the youths who are unemployed and lack the critical production resources mainly, land and capital.

High Productivity:  The youths are interested in projects that yield quick results in a short time. Rabbits attain a sexual maturity at 4-5 months, and are prolific in terms of offspring and will breed all year round.  A doe (female rabbit) can kindle (give birth to) up to 13 bunnies (young rabbits) at a time, the average being 8. A doe usually produces 4 to 5 litters in a year. With proper management, a doe kindled intensively, can easily give birth to 25 or more offsprings per year. Given a higher Feed Conversion Ratio (FCR) of rabbits than other livestock, the young ones have a short fattening period (less than 2 months from weaning), ready for market at 1.8 to 2.2 kg. The estimated the potential of meat production of a single doe is 25-50 kg per year. A doe can produce up to 10 times its own weight, or more, in offspring per year. Rabbits are easy to transport and market and the recurrent costs for maintaining animals beyond the optimum are low.

Food/nutrition and utilization: Rabbits are prospectively an important source of food in Uganda because rabbit meat is one of the most nutritious meats, with more protein and less fat and cholesterol (Table 1). Rabbit meat is pearly white, tender, juicy and mild in flavour. It can be prepared in over 300 different ways. Rabbit carcasses are only 20% bone. This makes it the most suitable animal meat for the children, the sick and elderly.  According to the Fresh Tracks Game & Poultry (n.d), the U.S. Department of Agriculture has stated that domestic rabbit meat is the most nutritious meat known to man. Research shows that rabbit meat has been recommended for special diets such as for heart disease patients, diets for the elderly, low sodium diets, and weight reduction diets. Because it is easily digested, it has been recommended by doctors for patients who have trouble eating other meats.

Other uses: Rabbits can also be raised for non-food purposes, which create more job opportunities. High quality rabbit skins are used in fur garments (clothing, hats), to cover bicycle seats, etc., and their use could spark village industry/crafts projects. Another significant use of rabbits is in cosmetic, medical and pharmaceutical research laboratories. Rabbits are also raised for show or as pets.

Table 1 Nutritional value of rabbit, chicken, veal, beef and pork meats

Animal

Animal Protein (%)

Fat (%)

Moisture (%)

Cal./lb

Rabbit

20.8

10.2

67.9

795

Chicken

20.0

11.0

67.6

810

Veal

19.1

12.0

68.0

840

Beef

16.3

28.0

55.0

1440

Pork

11.9

45.0

42.0

2050

Lamb

15.7

27.7

55.8

1420

Adapted from Lane (1999)

 

Future of rabbitry in Uganda

The rabbitry industry in Uganda needs to be promoted from the business perspective other than with community development view and along the whole value chain. There is need for entrepreneurs to invest at the different levels of breeding, production, processing and marketing.

4 Comments

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Ubaldo Bahemuka • 9 months ago

Dear LEL, I am a small time rabbit farmer and seeking for Market of 15 male Rabbits. Could you please advise?

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test user 2 • 03 years ago

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test user 2 • 03 years ago

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Mubanda Talemwa • 04 years ago

This is a very interesting article. It it is rich and has helped me come to the conclusion that rabbitry is the way to go in Uganda.

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