Rabbit farming pulls Zimbabweans out of poverty

7/21/2017 9:58:42 AM

More and more Zimbabweans raise rabbits for meat. The animals require little space, are cheap in maintenance and reproduce quickly. The white meat, rich in protein, is now gaining popularity in the Southern African country.

“I currently sell around a hundred rabbits a month”, Elizabeth Masasi says while walking between the rusty, three-story-high pens where dozens of the fluffy animals wiggle their noses and watch her curiously with their button eyes, many having nests with tiny, squeaking bunnies. The 60-year-old lady with grey frizzy hair, who had already kept a handful of rabbits for domestic consumption for many years, started farming commercial rabbits from her backyard in a suburb of Harare three years ago.

Easy way to make money
Since business is going good, she wants to develop the business to four hundred rabbits per month and will relocate to a larger area outside the capital. “Selling a rabbit at a price of ten dollars against three dollars costs I earn seven dollars per animal”, the woman in a blue skirt and blouse calculates while spreading out some fresh hay in the pens. “Because it doesn’t require much labor, rabbit farming is an easy way to earn income, and in Zimbabwe we don’t have that many options left to make money nowadays”, Masasi adds with a smile.

“The only reason why rabbit meat hasn’t been eaten in bigger quantities was the low availability”, says Jonathan Tembo from the Rabbit Breeders and Producers Association of Zimbabwe (RBPAZ). By training already over 800 farmers, opening an abattoir and developing professional packaging and branding, the organization tries to set up a commercial rabbit farming industry in the Southern African Country. “We are searching for investors to give us an extra boost”, the chairman adds.

Most nutritious meat for mankind
“The market is there”, Tembo says with a lot of confident, while showing us some rabbits from the popular ‘New Zealand White’ breed, used for demonstration during the weekly trainings and kept in a shed behind the office.  “Supermarkets like our idea of professional packaging and branding and that rabbit tastes like chicken”, Tembo says. “But the price of rabbit is still a little bit too high due to the low production and the supermarkets need a large and reliable supply. That’s why we try to scale up the volume by training and supporting farmers to start breeding rabbits.”

To promote rabbit meat to consumers, the association hands out flyers and organizes rabbit barbecues in shopping malls to give people the possibility to taste rabbit and get familiar with the meat. “Rabbit gains popularity among Zimbabweans who appreciate healthy food”, says Temo. “It’s an excellent meat product as it has the highest protein percentage of all types of meat, contains a lot of calcium and vitamins while it has the lowest percentages of cholesterol, fat and calories what made the United States Department of Agriculture even define it as ‘the most nutritious meat for mankind’.”

A rabbit can reproduce fifty bunnies a year
According to the chairman, rabbit farming is good ‘for all those people who cry over the bad economic situation in Zimbabwe’. “Feed only costs one dollar per rabbit per month, they don’t require much space as the cages can be stacked and the animals quickly multiply as the gestation period of a rabbit is around thirty days and an average litter contains seven kits so each doe (female rabbit) might deliver around fifty bunnies a year if conditions are favorable.”

Preventing diseases and letting the animals mate can be a bit challenging in the beginning though, as experienced by Fred Mhlanga (61), who started with commercial rabbit farming only three months ago.  “I’ve never done rabbit farming before so I’m still on the learning curve”, the farmer says while smiling. The association assists these starting farmers as much as possible with weekly trainings, Whatsapp groups with technical support and weekly visits by a vet.

Selling rabbit urine as fertilizer
Mhlanga currently has fifty females and nine males but is hoping the business soon will grow more. “I can accommodate four hundred breeders that will give me three thousand babies a month”, tells the tall farmer wearing a beige shirt and jeans, while proudly showing his neat and professional cages, set-up with a drip installation for drinking water and a system of pipes connected to metal plates underneath the cages to collect the animals’ urine. “Each rabbit produces around 350 ml urine per day and you can sell it as fertilizer or pesticide making it an interesting by product”, says Mhlanga who learned about this through the association.

The farmer, who was a factory manager in a paint company before, is very hopeful about the future. “I think that the returns will be very good already in a short period of time”, he says with a big smile. “When the dollars start coming in, I will be even more excited.”

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