Small scale farmers should start considering less conventional and lower-cost niches like rabbit breeding in the face of constraints and uncertainties contributing to barriers for entry into agriculture, an economist at First National Bank said on Monday. CALYN MONERON

JOHANNESBURG  - Small scale farmers should start considering less conventional and lower-cost niches like rabbit breeding in the face of constraints and uncertainties contributing to barriers for entry into agriculture, an economist at First National Bank said on Monday.

Rabbit farming is less demanding, easy to maintain and requires less land and resources, while the animals grow and multiply very quickly, FNB Business agricultural economist Pertunia Setumo said.

She noted that it takes rabbits about 90 days to reach a production weight of 3.5kg, while the gestation period is just 31 days.

“For a small-scale unit of 150 does and 30 bucks, a start-up investment is estimated at R35,000. This would cover setup costs such as breeding stock, feed, labour and other variable and fixed inputs, for the first month," Setumo said.

"This excludes structures which require capital investment depending on the size of the operation and adhoc fixed costs."

Domestic consumption of rabbit meat is currently below 20 percent, compared to over 80 percent for the export market. This is despite rabbit meat being considered to have lowest calorie meat per serving and a high protein concentration compared with beef, lamb, chicken, fish and pork.

"Locally, the retail market is still immature owing to a lack of knowledge in terms of nutritional benefits and accessibility. The meat is available in gourmet restaurants, wildlife butcheries, informal markets and some selected retailers," Setumo said.

China is the leading producer and consumer of rabbit meat , accounting for about 60 percent of global output. The industry has more than doubled since 2013, led by strong local consumption.

Setumo cited Food and Agriculture Organization data showing that an estimated 1.2 billion rabbits are slaughtered annually, with growth mostly notable in China, followed by the European Union which contributed about 10 percent to production in 2017. 

Unlike other sub-sectors of agriculture where access to markets is one of the biggest challenges for small scale farmers, rabbit farmers have an opportunity to partner with established companies, such as Coniglio, which is the major off taker supplier to both the local international markets, Setumo said.

"There are many other commercial farmers who are willing to mentor and assist small-scale farmers to get their operations off the ground," she said.

- African News Agency (ANA)