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Will Rabbitry Ever Rise To The Common Dream For It In Uganda?

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By Beatrice Luzobe and Dr Sam Luzobe

The rabbit has a lot of prospects for food and income worldwide. The rabbit is known for its prolificacy and efficient conversion rate of fodder to food.  They require little space; have minimal effect on climate change because of their negligible production of methane and minimal effects on overgrazing. Moreover, rabbits are easy to handle and restrain. Their meat is white-fine-grained high in protein, low in fat, highly palatable, low in cholesterol and sodium levels. All these and many more factors make rabbitry (rearing of rabbits), not only attractive to the youths, landless, poor but also those who are looking for viable agri-businesses to invest in.   Then, at the end of the value-chain, people conscious about what they eat and are avoiding high fat/high cholesterol foods are eagerly waiting for the principal product- the rabbit meat.

And here is the puzzle. For over three decades that rabbitry has been promoted as one of the viable lucrative agribusinesses in this country, the industry has little achievements to show as far as pushing the main product (meat) to the market and providing sustainable income to the farmers.  Someone recently observed that whereas there are about 50 rabbit raisers along Entebbe road, there isn’t a single outlet where you can get rabbit meat in any form”.  There are also many rabbitry online platforms which are excellent avenues for people promoting their products, but discussions on rabbit meat are highly muted,  which may simply be communicating–“meat  not available please”

At RabFarm, we proved that the potential market for rabbit meat in this country.  With 70 breeders and over 500 rabbits in total, the farm was slaughtering about 50 fryers (rabbits for meat) every week and delivering to 5 supermarkets. Although the farm had temporarily closed in 2017, the demand for the rabbit meat has continued to grow.

This poses another dilemma. If the market for rabbit meat is available, and there are farmers rearing rabbits in the country, why then is there no meat on the market? Why it that there is almost no place where you can pay for and pick your 1kg package of rabbit meat? We recently visited several rabbit farms to understand this paradox.  Additionally, we discussed with farmers and followed discussions on different virtual rabbit farming platforms. The discovery is that the industry is stuck at the point where most farmers are concentrating on production and sale of breeding stock and not the principal product (rabbit meat).

Literally “Each rabbit farmer has become a self-styled breeder”. Never mind that breeding requires specialized knowledge and it a highly technical venture.  Because the farmers focus on breeding and cashing on breeding stock, prices of the live animal have been sky-rocketing, not basing on input but speculated demand. This has always characterized the cycle of emergence, peaking, demise and resurgence of commercial rabbit farming. The demise stage is precipitated by the fact that all farmers who are interested in joining the industry have received the number of rabbits they needed to rear. There is saturation as the outlet for those who bought prospecting to make supernormal profits of selling all their stock cannot find a market. It is indeed a self-defeating approach within the industry.

However, the positive part in the industry is that there is a lot of improvement in the husbandry. There has for example been tremendous improvement in the housing and other facilities. There are a few initiatives of large scale investments into rabbitry which if sustained and re-focused on meat production could propel the industry to new horizons.

With these meso-investment farms, there is a large potential for growing the industry up to the export level. But as of now, these large establishments, are focusing on importing breeding stock and multiplication of breeders.  However, such establishments have not as yet sought to employ technical persons to beef up the quality of animal husbandry and management practices.

The above scenario, is sustained by a number of critical factors.

  •   The rabbitry industry has not yet attracted the requisite attention from the government and associated agencies. For example, unlike Kenya which has established a national breeding centre, Uganda does not as yet have such a plan.  The lack of a breeding centre has meant that the quality of rabbits in Uganda is highly compromised which affects productivity. For example, most farmers who claim to sell breeding stock cannot show any records relating to breeding. Non-Technical farmers cannot be expected go beyond the simple exchange of livestock, and a few basic tips with fellow farmers.
  • The other key issue is the inadequate technical capacity to support the many enthusiastic farmers who are investing their time and money. For example, currently there is no technical person dedicated to rabbitry within the Ministry of Agriculture. Many Veterinary Doctors and Animal Scientists will admit that a rabbitry was not one of the topics that was emphasized during their training. Hence there might be a need to establish a program that that reinforces the technical capacity for handling rabbit rearing in the country.
  • There is an erroneous approach to promotion of the enterprise built on wrong cash-flows- sale of breeding stock. This has become a vicious cycle where those who enter the industry are targeting selling the offspring at the price of the breeding stock or even higher.

Considering all that above, there is need for support to this potential enterprise, right from the policy to the local level, but the key element will remain: the right focus by the farmers that will drive the rest into place.

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