Rabbit farming, known as cuniculture, is growing steadily in Zimbabwe.
Traditionally, rabbits were mainly for family consumption, with some keeping them as pets. Yet the advantages of rabbit meat are plenty, including the following:
Cholesterol levels in rabbit meat are much lower than in chicken, turkey, beef, pork;
Rabbit has a higher percentage of easily digestible protein and it is the most nutritious meat known to man;
Rabbit meat has the lowest fat and calories, and less sodium content and a high meat-bone ratio;
It is suitable for special diets, such as those for heart disease patients, diets for the aged, low sodium diets, weight reduction diets, etc; and
Rabbits will produce plus 2kg of meat on the same feed and water that a cow produces 500g of meat on.
Despite these advantages, the consumption of rabbit meat has remained low mainly due to lack of availability of a consistent supply to the market and middlemen have taken advantage of this apparent scarcity by selling at high prices to braai markets and restaurants that serve traditional foods.
Farmers interested in the business have recognised a gap in the market and have formed the Rabbit Producers Association of Zimbabwe.
RPAZ will result in a comprehensive and co-ordinated administration and promotion of both commercial and domestic breeding, production and sale of rabbits in Zimbabwe. It seeks to be the standard bearer with regards to rabbit breeding.
Association chair Mr Jonathan Tembo says: “Our vision is to elevate cuniculture to the fore of animal husbandry and agri-business in general and to in turn, promote the healthy rabbit meat as a main stream ingredient in our Zimbabwean diet.
“The association seeks to harness the power of an organised supply chain for rabbit meat through registering all interested enthusiasts as well as all seasoned experts in commercial production of rabbits.
“This, we hope, will help alleviate the unemployment epidemic considering that cuniculture is not capital intensive, rabbits are low cost on production yet, the product realises as much if not more returns than chicken.”
RPAZ has started training farmers on rabbit production in Harare and will soon take this programme to other provinces.
The training covers breed selection, rabbit nutrition, reproduction, record keeping and economics of production.
Members then receive technical and marketing support. The association will also provide breeding stock.
The association’s management includes an agri-business specialist, animal scientist and a marketing advisor.
The association has arrangements with poultry abattoirs to provide slaughter services and plans to invest in its own rabbit slaughterhouse that meets international standards to enter export markets.
Mr Tembo says, “Rabbits are becoming as profitable as cows, goats and other farm animals and should not be underestimated any more. In fact, they are economical to keep compared to other livestock due to their high prolificacy and fecundity (ability to support many kindles), being light feeders, efficient space utilisation, their short generational interval, their therapeutic qualities and the little capital needed to start.” The different rabbit breeds in Zimbabwe include Californian white, Chinchilla Gigantica, Flemish giant, New Zealand white and Nyanga type.
“The breeds vary in body shape, fur colour and behavioural characteristics,” adds Mr Tembo.
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