Where rabbit meat competes with ‘githeri’

The Standard, Published on 03/02/2010
By Wairimu Kamande

They were once regarded as pets for boys and shunned by grown-ups who would never be seen eating their meat. Many parents barred their children from keeping the animals or only allowed them if they made sheds far from the homestead.
But many farmers in parts of Central Province have broken the rabbit taboo and taken to rearing the animals with new-enthusiasm. In most parts of Murang’a, Kiambu and Kirinyaga districts, rabbit cages stand in many homesteads, indicating how the concept has taken root.

While githeri (maize and beans) and irio (mashed mixture) are the commonest food in the region, many families now easily afford rabbit meat.

Rather than slaughter the largest cock in the compound during festivities, many farmers are now likely to be seen skinning the largest buck from a cage that could have as many as 200 rabbits.

Following critical diminishing of land for rearing livestock and farming in areas like Muranga, several NGOs have been promoting rabbit-keeping which requires just a small space on which to put up elevated sheds.

Several areas
Through Rabbit Breeders Association of Kenya, operating in several areas in the province, small scale farmers have been introduced to exotic rabbit breeds that grow to an average of four kilogrammes.

They have also been connected to a ready market whose demand is growing.

Gerald Muriuki shows prospective farmers some of his rabbits.
The impact of rabbit farming was evident at Thika Municipal Stadium on Wednesday, last week, when the Rabbit Breeders Association hosted an exhibition for farmers. About 2,000 farmers from all over Central Province turned up, many of them carrying rabbits for sale and others seeking information on how to rear the animals.

The chairman of the umbrella group Peter Waiganjo said they started introducing exotic breeds in 2004. The number of member farmers has grown to almost 1,000, marketing rabbits worth Sh875,000 per month. Mr Waiganjo said demand for the meat and for breeders was so high they have not satisfied it.

While most of the animals are sold live between farmers and consumers, two rabbit meat butcheries have been opened in Murang’a and Gilgil towns. A restaurant specialising in the meat has also been opened in Murang’a. He said as the animals are reared widely, residents of the region who were once skeptical of eating the meat due to cultural and religious beliefs have embraced the delicacy.

During the exhibition at Thika, farmers applauded as the Government promised to include rabbit keeping under Livestock Management System. Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Livestock Development, Kenneth Lusaka, who was the chief guest, said the move would help farmers create wider awareness. This, he said will prevent unscrupulous persons from exploiting farmers. He added that the Government was expanding multiplication centres to provide quality breeding material.

Rabbit production stands at 600,000 nationally, we would like to see this production increased,” Lusaka said.

Violet Munji, the author of A Guide on Commercial rabbit Farming Kenya, explained that of all livestock, the rabbit is most cost effective to rear.

Book on rabbits
Mrs Munji, from Banana in Kiambu District, who sold over 1,000 copies of her book at the exhibition, said: “I started with about 20 rabbits and now I have a stock of over 200, which I mainly sell for breeding.
Rabbit meat is classified among white meats and is said to pose minimal health risks compared to red meats,” said Mrs Munji.

Hellen Wambui said she ventured into rabbit farming after she got disappointed in poultry farming. Chicken require a lot of tender care throughout the day yet the returns were minimal. I often incurred losses,” she said. She decided to try her hand in rabbit keeping, which the Juja resident says she has never regretted.

A two-month-old rabbit for breeding fetches for at least Sh2,500. It is for this reason that most farmers rear rabbits to sell for breeding. Peter Muriuki who rears rabbits for meat says he had problems marketing the meat. To his rescue, however, came Gilgil Rabbit butchery that sells rabbit meat.

According to George Kihara, the chairman of the Gilgil group of rabbit farmers who started the initiative, a kilo of rabbit meat costs Sh300. An adult male rabbit can weigh upto four kilograms. He adds that they separately buy Rabbit hides from farmers at Sh100 a piece.

Meat and hide
Besides the meat and hide, the farmers say the animal’s droppings are used as organic manure and their urine is used as organic spray to fight pests in vegetables and other crops.
A litre of the urine costs Sh100,” says Gladys Auma, a farmer based in Thika. It is the potential of the unexplored sector that prompted farmers like Muriuki, Kihara and others to form a group that would help them source for breeding stock and market their products

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