By Sheila Ngigi
When anything about livestock rearing in Kenya is mentioned, the first thing that comes into one’s mind is dairy cattle, beef cattle, poultry, pigs, sheep and goats almost in that order. For many years, little emphasis has been directed towards small stock as Guinea pigs, guinea fowls, quails, pigeons and rabbits.
For ages now, rabbit rearing has been perceived as a preserve for young boys, and even then, they do it as a hobby and have to play hide-and-seek games with their guardians who will never allow them time to look after them at the expense of school time. Many people have never imagined that rabbits can provide enough meat nor be a reliable source of livelihood for their households.
But in the recent past, the livestock industry has been experiencing a major shift with many livestock farmers trying their hands in a number of emerging livestock like fish farming, quails and rabbit keeping.
Lately, this has also been the trend in Kajiado County which has seen a number of farmers venturing in to rabbit rearing. Given its many advantages including high nutritive value, small rearing space, relatively cheaper feeds, many natives of the county are getting in to it. These, coupled with the now highly unpredictable weather conditions and the diminishing land sizes, is increasingly leading to a shift from the traditional pastoralism and way of life towards keeping of small stock like rabbits, dairy goats, fish and poultry.
Through public-private sector partnerships, the Ministry of Livestock Development in collaboration with some Non-Governmental Organizations like ALIN have conducted a number of farmer training seminars on rabbit keeping and the reception has been overwhelming. NGOs, donor organizations, governments and food processing companies have all realized that there is need to expand food production to counter food shortages and the escalating price of grain, vegetables and livestock products while at the same time help farmers earn from their ventures.
|Farmers keenly following a training on rabbit rearing|
At the moment, a number of groups around the Kajiado County have been trained with some having already embarked on implementing their projects while others are still in the training process.
Major emphasis is put on the importance of value addition to the products in order to increase marketability enabling farmers to fetch more returns. This has also been boosted by the ongoing construction of the tannery in Isinya where the rabbit skins will be tanned enabling various items to be made from the skins. This will ensure that rabbit products are not taken to the market in their raw form and as a result increasing the incomes of farmers.
Another important move is to bring on board more players in the rabbit business as entrepreneurs, as it is already an interest of many around the county.
Moreover, by embracing rabbit keeping, farmers will now have a constant source of income all year long irrespective of weather conditions and low financial status. However, there is need for them to form Common Interest Groups to gain optimally from their ventures. Such organizations enable stakeholders speak in one voice by providing a platform to air views, express issues they face and share ideas aimed at improving their livelihoods.
Though still in infancy stage, if well governed, the rabbit sector can drastically create more jobs (value chains) through slaughter houses and rabbit butcheries.
There is hope that this emerging practice will change the fortunes of the community around Kajiado County. However, with its launching, Agricultural Sector Development Support Programme, ASDSP, a five year programme, has strategically placed value chain development as one of its main goals which will benefit rabbit farmers a great deal.