Breeding rabbits for food and income
Rabbits have significant potential to improve the food security of small farmers around the world, according to a new FAO publication, "The rabbit: Husbandry, health and production". A relatively simple enterprise, "backyard" rabbit raising can produce modest income and help upgrade the family diet of rural and urban households with minimal input and labour costs.
The book is an encyclopaedic reference work and technical manual, covering world production and trade, nutrition and feeding, reproduction, genetics and selection, pathology, housing and equipment, rabbitry management, and production of rabbit skins and hair for textiles.
For several reasons, rabbits are unique among small animals for food and commerce:
Lingering taboos discourage rabbit consumption
Perhaps the greatest constraint to widespread rabbit breeding, however, is lingering taboos about eating rabbit meat. An FAO study in 64 developing countries found that 30 percent of people surveyed believed that social, religious or other reasons would not favour the development of rabbit production.
"Rabbit meat consumption is much easier to develop where people are already used to eating widely different kinds of meat, as from hunting," according to the book. "This would generally be true of sub-Saharan Africa. People with monotonous diets will find it harder to accept this new product. However, the example of Mexico, with its traditional diet of maize and kidney beans, shows a well-planned development campaign can do much to promote the necessary change in eating habits."
Along with governments and non-governmental development organizations, FAO has supported and developed rabbit production projects in various parts of the world, including Egypt, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Haiti, Mexico, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe and the Republic of Congo.
Europe is centre of world rabbit production
If cultural and other constraints could be overcome, the rabbit could emerge as an important low-cost answer to the problems of hunger, undernourishment and rural poverty.
"The potential is there," says Branckaert. "It just needs better diffusion. And a bit of convincing. Rabbit is an example of how poor farmers can obtain protein and income with minimal investment."
Illustrated with over 50 tables and 26 colour photos, "The rabbit" brings together all available data on husbandry, health and production. The 205-page publication may be ordered from the FAO Sales and Marketing Group, Information Division.
12 January 1999
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