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Press Release 01/57

FAO RECOGNIZES THE INCREASINGLY IMPORTANT ROLE OF RABBIT BREEDING
Global rabbit production exceeds 1 million tonnes


Rome, 28 September 2001 - Ahead a major international rabbit breeding conference, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) announced today that it is ready to promote rabbit farming in its various livestock projects all over the world. The 2nd General Assembly of the International Observatory on Rabbit Breeding in Mediterranean Countries begins tomorrow in Ragusa, Sicily. The Observatory is a network that promotes rabbit breading for food security.

"There is greater and greater recognition that the potential of small species like rabbits, has been underestimated so far," according to Emmanuelle Guerne-Bleich, FAO animal production expert.

"Several rabbit farming micro-projects have been launched by FAO in the last years in Tunisia, Morocco, Latvia, Papouasia New Guinea, Barbados and Gambia. TeleFood, an FAO awareness and fund-raising activity of World Food Day, funded these projects, while in Cuba rabbit farming projects financed by trust funds will be launched on a larger scale," the FAO expert said.

Potential projects have been identified in many other countries and cooperation continues between the FAO and Governments to launch technical cooperation projects in several parts of the world, including Cameroon and Mexico, according to Guerne-Bleich.

The International Observatory on Rabbit Breeding in Mediterranean countries has enlarged its efforts to include South and Central America as well as the Caribbean.

At the Ragusa meeting, participants will exchange information and data on rabbit breeding. They will also discuss what needs to be done to effectively promote rabbit farming in countries participating in this collective effort. Among other initiatives, they are expected to agree to launch a web site.

Rabbit farming has significant potential to improve food security and nutrition in developing countries. Rabbits are highly productive, thanks to short gestation and great prolificacy. A female rabbit can produce up to 80 kilograms (kg) of meat per year, i.e. 2900 to 3000 per cent of its own weight in meat. Rabbit meat is highly nutritious, lowfat, low-cholesterol and rich in proteins, vitamins and minerals.

Backyard rabbit raising provides additional income to small farmers and upgrades the diet of poor rural and urban households. Rabbits fit well in household production. Investment and labour costs are low. Being herbivores, rabbits do not compete with humans for their food.

Global rabbit production is currently estimated at more than 1 million tonnes per year, according to FAO. The world's largest producer is China with 315,000 tonnes in 2000, followed by Italy at 221,000 tonnes, Spain with 135,000 tonnes and France, which produced 85,000 tonnes. Among other rabbit producing countries, Egypt produced 69,600 tonnes, Malte 1,350 tonnes and Cyprus 830 tonnes.

In 2000, Europe produced 570,051 tonnes of rabbit, Africa 85,782 tonnes (76,600 tonnes came from North African countries). South America produced 16,317 tonnes and Central America, 4,364 tonnes. In North America very little rabbit is consumed. Production was estimated at just 35,000 tonnes.

North African countries produce 90 percent of Africa's rabbit meat, covering 15 percent of European consumption (570,051 tonnes). Morocco tops production at 0.78 kg per person a year. Though there are some commercial rabbit farms, most rabbit farming in North Africa is essentially artisanal.

Italy leads the world in rabbit consumption at 5.8 kg per capita annually, far ahead of the world's leading producer - China, where consumption is just 0.07 kg per person per year. Chinese rabbit production is primarily for angora fur, rather than for food. In Asia, outside of China, Indonesia is the country that has most developed rabbit farming.

The constraints to widespread rabbit farming fall into two general areas, animal diseases, including vaccinations, and a lack of production management and technical training.

The rabbit was first discovered in Spain by the Phoenicians about 1000 B.C. In Europe, rabbit farming really started in the 16th century. However, it was only in the 19th century that it became widespread in both rural and suburban areas. Judging from the European experience, many experts expect rabbit breeding to increase substantially in developing countries because it is a low cost activity, the meat is nutritious and there are few social, cultural and religious restrictions against it.

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For futher information please contact Emmanuelle Guerne-Bleich, FAO Animal Production Unit, telephone: +39.06.57056660, email: emmanuelle.guernebleich@fao.org or Pierre Antonios, FAO, Media Relations Service, telephone: +39.06.57053473, email: pierre.antonios@fao.org


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