A development programme using rabbits

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Analysing a small rural rabbitry depends on a number of interacting factors, not all operating on the same level. Figure 47 gives an idea of how they connect with each other. The reader can either start from the centre and read out, or start from the outside and read in. The objectives are in the centre. Here the major goal is to produce proteins to feed the breeder's family. A secondary goal is to generate family income through sales and employment.

The first circle around the centre shows the factors directly affecting achievement of the objectives. Double arrows show how several factors interact at the same level. The second circle contains a second series of factors. The plain arrows represent the action of one factor on another. The system considered here is only a sub-system, one component of a global system of rural development, and links with the outside are barely indicated in the diagram.

The programme is executed by a national organization. This structure is responsible for developing the work. Its task is to inform, create awareness, and provide training and evaluation. Local back-up is provided by regional units which do the same job. The regional units do not train the producers directly; they train the technical people who are in touch with the land. This decentralization is essential to the effectiveness of the whole and to avoid the excessive growth of the organization that is technically responsible for the programme.

The regional units produce and multiply the breeding animals. They may also act as centres for demonstration and experiment, where the animals' reactions to the production techniques and the agroclimatic conditions they will meet outside the centre can be tested.

This programme is one section of an integrated development programme. According to circumstances it might embody such features as production of other animal species, agronomy, horticulture, or perhaps home economics, hygiene or home renovations. Such integration requires good coordination between the executing agency and the other development agencies, some of which are technical while others are more concerned with socioeconomic work.

FIGURE 47.-Global analysis of a development programme using rabbits

In practice, liaison is through the promoter responsible for keeping the programme going. He will have been given basic training in rabbit production at one of the regional production centres. Preferably, he should have 2 years' experience in rearing rabbits. His training will also enable him to lead other programmes.

The sphere of action is the village community. To get these programmes off the ground at least 10 families have to join. This number makes the agent's work more effective, promotes interest in the community and makes mutual assistance more effective. It also makes it unnecessary to include 1 male in each batch of 5 females. The promoter can distribute a number of males among the units and organize their use.

The promoter must be in constant contact with the local branches of each organization involved in the programme. Periodic reports will enable him to evaluate his work. Regional experts can rapidly detect problems that come up and can help the promoter solve them. Feedback is essential for the system to run smoothly.

The human factor is a very basic component of this environment. The promoter has a primary role. It is he who arouses interest and enthusiasm, who provides information and who guides the rabbit keepers. He is both instructor and observer, he must not give up easily, but he must also be patient. He is largely responsible for the level of technical ability reached by the farmers.

It is hard to modify agroclimatic factors so they must be exploited as well as possible. An inventory of regional forage resources often requires the intervention of an agrobotanist. Medicinal plants could be useful, for example. Water resources will be the subject of a separate study.

There is a great deal of interaction at this level. The reproduction rate adopted must be decided on the basis of alternating seasons and thus according to forage resources. Where fodder is abundant the production potential of the species can be fully exploited. During harder times, most of the animals will be eaten by the producer's family. He will keep only the future breeding animals. This extreme pattern is adapted to regions where the dry season lasts less than 6 months. Microclimate, locally available materials and available labour will also determine the type of cage and shelter to be used.

The socioeconomic factors depend partly on other development programmes. It is these that determine any sales outlets for eventual meat surpluses or byproducts. Where there are enough byproducts a small industry can be launched to provide a little work and generate some income for the community.

The animal factor should not be overlooked. A systematic evaluation of local genetic types will help to breed animals adapted to the local agroclimatic complex. A policy of crossbreeding to reinforce this adaptation to the environment and so upgrade productivity can be tried. Selection should take place in an environment not too different from the area where the producers work. In countries with several clear climatic zones, selection should be done at the regional centres.

Rearing rabbits jointly with other animals such as domestic poultry, small ruminants or bees or fish is often the best way to exploit the resources available.

The production in large numbers of quality breeding animals is a difficult problem. One effective solution is to establish a network of multiplication centres based around one or more selection centres. Other solutions could be devised. But anything less than full control of such technical parameters as feed quality, or climatic parameters such as temperature, will lead to productivity problems. It is therefore wise to limit the size of these regional units to a few hundred females at the start.

Programme evaluation should not be limited to a simple quantitative analysis. The standard "amount of rabbit meat eaten monthly by each family member" is important, but it is far too restrictive. An attempt should be made to evaluate the social impact and profound transformations resulting from a programme like this. Evaluation, like the conception and follow-up of a programme, can only be carried out by a multidisciplinary team. This should include an agronomist, a livestock expert, a sociologist and an economist, at the very least.

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