Rabbit Farming: A Prospect for Food, Nutrition and Income Security in Uganda

Oct 26, 2013 | by Beatrice Luzobe | 2 Comments

RABBIT FARMING: A PROSPECT FOR FOOD, NUTRITION AND INCOME SECURITY IN UGANDA

I quit salaried employment in 2010 to join the private sector to personally demonstrate in what I had been training farmers and service providers to do for over 20 years. One of the inspirational factors was my work with farmers’ organizations where together with other colleagues; we had helped farmers birth associations, select enterprises and promote them along the value chain. From a community development perspective, we made great strides, but on the business side there were glaring gaps. Once in the private sector, I determined to go into agribusiness and also advise farmers in practical commercial farming. I believed that farming is a commercially a viable venture in Uganda. I decided to focus on unique enterprises, and contribute to their value chain development to commercial levels. Rabbit farming (rabbitry) immediately caught my attention because I had previously promoted and reared rabbits (since 1990), but given the nature of my job, had failed to give it the required concentration.

 

Rabbit rearing has been practiced in Uganda since the 1870’s when Christian missionaries first introduced the long-eared animals. From the 1970s to 1980s, there were efforts to promote rabbitry through importation and multiplication of exotic breeds (mainly New Zealand White) by Government but there was little success. This was mainly because the magnitude of the enterprises had always been petty -like and the venture relegated to a children’s business. In the 1990s, there was a phenomenon growth in rabbitry when various organizations and institutions promoted rabbitry for food and income generation. It was during this time that a Rabbitry Project was started by the Faculty of Agriculture at the then Makerere University Farm in Kabanyolo.  Uganda National Farmer Association and other NGOs mobilized their members to participate.  Individual rabbit farmers formed the Uganda Rabbitry Development Association (URDA), and the media created a lot of awareness and even politicians joined in. However, the efforts by the various players suffered a setback, due to various factors that hindered the growth of the industry. The main impediments were:

  • Too much excitement and false impression about the prospects of the enterprise. In 1998, Dr. Stephen Lukefahr a renowned international rabbit expert reported the ‘rabbit craze in Uganda” where rabbit farming had been promoted by enthusiasts as a get rich business opportunity with unlimited market potential both in-country and for export.
  • Most farmers concentrated on production and sale of breeding stock and paid minimal attention to marketing of the principal product, rabbit meat, which led to overpricing. At the end of the day when everybody had got a rabbit to rear, the only real market left was that of the rabbit meat.
  • There was lack of technical knowledge and resilience among the promoters and adopters. Many people posed as experts on rabbirty and circulated wrong information on management and marketing.
  • The overpricing coupled with the inability to present a ready product (the rabbit meat) rendered the rabbitry uncompetitive in the meat market. In an industry that has many competing products, which are presented in a “ready to cook form” the rabbit farmers could not attract and sustain interested consumers. In 1997, farmers were selling a live rabbit, (hardly yielding a kilogramme in terms of carcass weight), for as much as Shs. 20,000. The prices for other meat products ranged from shs 2,000 to 5,000.
  • Predators and thieves also affected farmers who lost the morale to continue and expand.

Since the rabbit craze period of the 1990’s, the rabbitry industry has been at low ebb with isolated efforts to revive it by interested individuals and organizations. Currently, the industry has very few, if not negligible players handling the breeding, production, inputs, service delivery and capacity building.

With the above factors in mind, the promoters of Learn Enterprises Limited (LEL) are establishing a model commercial rabbitry farm (RabFarm) in a suburb of Kampala to demonstrate the economic feasibility of the enterprise, stimulate other stakeholders into the business and raise income for the company. This is because rabbits have several characteristics that give them a competitive advantage over other livestock for meat. They are small bodied requiring less space and input, very prolific and efficient converters of feed to meat. Their meat is very nutritious and healthy because it is white, higher in protein with low in fat and lower in cholesterol. They have minimal effect on climate change because their production of methane and effects of overgrazing are negligible and they can also be raised for non-food purposes, which create more job opportunities. All the above 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 (land and capital). Rabbitry provides an excellent option to people who are conscious about health dieting and are avoiding high fat / high cholesterol foods as much as possible.

 

RabFarm is planned to be a model farm with high yielding adaptive breeds, based on professional farming methods, modern processing techniques, efficient marketing systems and innovative capacity building approaches for out-growers. The main product is rabbit meat, branded “RAB-BITE”. Though the farm started with local breeds and crosses; a good breeding stock (New Zealand White) has been now been acquired. RabFarm has set up low cost housing units and other facilities. The farm is stocked with 25 breeders (only 15 in production), with plans to double this by the end of the year and finally 100 by 2013. Though current output is still low (about 20 kgs per month), slaughtering, packaging and sale of rabbit meat to individual primary consumers have commenced. Our biggest challenge is how to satisfy our customers and we would like to link up with other farmers on this issue. A mini market survey covering Kampala and Mukono town was conducted between from September 2010 and January 2012., Among the 152 individuals and 63 institutions surveyed in the meat market (like hotels, restaurants, supermarkets and meat joints), the estimated a total monthly demand was at 450kgs and 520 kgs respectively. 90% of the potential customers who had ever eaten or sold rabbit meat were frustrated by the unavailability of the product and had actually stopped. RabFarm business plan has already been drawn to ensure the viability before expansion and inform prospective stakeholders and financiers. LEL is also linking up with current and potential farmers plus other players, in an effort to create a critical mass for service delivery and the market. For example the Tropical Rabbits Farm in Buloba for breeding, the National Vocational Training Institute (NVTI) and local artisans for the fabrication of rabbitry facilities and NUVITA, the sole manufacturer of commercial rabbit feed. LEL plans to sensitise and train farmers at a fee, both in the rural and peri-urban areas, in order to increase production and sustain the market as a whole.

 

My advice to the current and aspiring farmers is to get out of the craze the get-rich-quick syndrome. According to the projected cash flows, rabbitry has higher returns to investment (but over a longer time) than that of chicken because you build your own stock (not possible to access one-day-old bunnies!). Rabbits for any purpose are safer to buy after one month of suckling and mother care. The current and aspiring farmers should therefore:

  • Know that like any other livestock business, rabbitry requires investment into buildings, facilities, feeds, veterinary services and labour. The level of investments depends on the location and availability of inputs and materials.
  • Know that rabbitry is a TLC (tender-loving and caring) project, which requires daily attention, record keeping and serious follow up of breeding and maturity dates.
  • Acquire information from technical people and experienced farmers and avoid opportunists who masquerade as experts in the field.
  • Acquire good breeds from farms with technical persons or experienced farmers. Avoid the temptation of becoming a breeder, unless you are technically qualified. One of the best breed for our environment is the New Zealand White.
  • Scale-up production to economically viable and sustainable levels. For the peri-urban who adopt the intensive system, at least 50 breeders with an output of over 150 fryers per month would make sense. The rural dwellers can target 5-10 breeders since they are likely to mostly feed on foliage, which can become a limiting factor during prolonged drought.
  • Concentrate on the meat market and deliver ready-to- cook product because this is convenient to the consumers who may not even know how to slaughter and process it.
  • Price your product close to that of the biggest competitor, chicken meat. Over pricing may make a onetime big kill but cannot sustain the business

As a national concern, rabbit farmers will have to get together again, to have a voice that will lobby government for  supportive structures There is a need to create a critical mass for services and inputs providers, for example technical advisors, financiers, feed manufacturers and fabricators for facilities like drinkers and feeders.

 

The writer is an agriculturalist (Animal Science) with a diploma in Business management and Master in Management. She is a director of Learn Enterprises Ltd. Contacts: Mob: +256 776-801091, email: bnluzobe@gmail.com, website: http://www.learnenterprises.org

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• 2 months ago

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Aine Lynette • 9 months ago

Please can i get more info abt this cos i want to start my rabbit project as well am a s6 vacist

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