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Press Release 99/13

FAO HELPS MEDITERRANEAN COUNTRIES SET UP A
NETWORK FOR RABBIT BREEDING


Rome, 17 March 1999. - The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is currently helping Mediterranean countries to set up a network to promote rabbit breeding for food security, income purposes, diversification of livestock and better use of feed resources.

The network, known as the "International Observatory on Rabbit Breeding in Mediterranean countries", will hold its first meeting on 18 and 19 March 1999 in FAO headquarters, in Rome, with delegates from 14 countries and the support of specialized organizations led by the Italian rabbit-breeding society ANCI (Associazione Nazionale Coniglicoltori Italiani) and the Italian Ministry for Rural Politics. The meeting has been coordinated by Dr. René Branckaert, FAO's animal production officer.

The network will provide governments and producers information they need to plan rabbit output in the context of total livestock production. It will also promote training activities, elaborate specific programmes for rabbit production, processing and marketing and formulate technical cooperation projects for funding by bilateral, multilateral, non-governmental organizations and the private sector. More than half the countries participating are in the Arab world, including Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, and Tunisia.

Rabbits have significant potential to improve food security. They are highly productive, thanks to short gestation and great prolificacy (up to 40 offspring a year, compared to 0.8 and 1.4 for cattle or sheep) and constitute a cheap source of protein. A female rabbit can produce up to 80 kg of meat per year, i.e. 2900 to 3000 per cent of its own weight in meat, according to experts.

For several reasons, rabbits are unique among small animals for food and commerce. They are adapted for both industrial and backyard production.

Rabbits produce highly nutritious, low-fat, low-cholesterol meat rich in proteins and certain vitamins and minerals. Being herbivores, rabbits do not compete with humans for their food and are easily adaptable to different environments. They are easy to transport and market for food, fur and raw skin for garments and gloves.

Backyard rabbit raising provides additional income to small farmers and upgrades the diet of poor rural and urban households. Investment and labour costs are low and rabbits can be cared for by the most vulnerable family members. "Rabbits fit well in household production and can be looked after by women farmers," says FAO expert René Branckaert.

Rabbit meat consumption is a secular custom in the Mediterranean area. It goes back to 1000 BC when Phoenicians are said to have discovered wild rabbits in North Africa and Spain and the Romans spread them throughout their empire. In France, consumption of rabbit meat became the sole right of the lord of the manor.

In Europe, rabbit breeding began in the 16th century and the small prolific animal was introduced to Australia and New Zealand through colonial expansion. Today, rabbit meat is a delicacy in most Mediterranean countries, from the famous French "Lapin à la provençale," to Italy's "Coniglio alla cacciatora". Malta holds the highest per capita consumption with 8.89 kilos a year, followed by Italy (5.71 kg/year), Cyprus (4.37 kg/year) and France (2.76 kg/year). The town of Naples, in the South of Italy, is said to be the world's biggest consumer of rabbit meat at 15 kg/year per inhabitant.

Among Arab countries, Egypt ranks as number one in rabbit consumption at 1.5 kg/year per capita. Information on rabbit consumption in the Arab world is not widely available and the "Observatory" can be expected to improve the situation by systematically collecting data on rabbit production and consumption.

Global rabbit production is currently estimated at 957,000 tons. Biggest producer is China (some 300,000 tons a year), followed by Italy (210,000 tons) and Spain (110,000 tons).

In developing countries, rabbits may emerge as one low-cost answer to the problem of hunger, undernourishment and rural poverty. "Backyard rabbitries are the perfect answer to today's demand for sustainable development projects", says René Branckaert, FAO livestock production specialist.

There are, however, several constraints to widespread rabbitry: they include lack of training in rabbit breeding and animal epidemics that could have devastating effects. However, social, cultural and religious bans are few and do not prohibit rabbit production development in most parts of the Mediterranean region.

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For further information, please contact FAO information officer Pierre Antonios (tel.: 0039.06.57053473 or cell phone 0039.(0) 348.2341145; email: pierre.antonios@fao.org) or FAO expert René Branckaert (tel.: 0039.06.57054105) e-mail at: Rene.Branckaert@fao,org

or,

Dr. Charles Dago Dadie (Associazione Nazionale Coniglicoltura Italiana - ANCI, tel.: 0039.06.86328574); email at: Dadie.c@aia.it


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