As Charline Mukandoli feeds her rabbits, one can easily tell that she is passionate about her project. Apart from talking and cajoling the petite mammals to feed, the farmer sings and admonishes the naughty ones. The former street vendor says the project was born out of deliberate efforts to improve her living standards and secure her future.
"It was hard to make ends meet then or pay my house rent of Rwf60,000. So, I decided to start saving at least Rwf500 per day so that I could accumulate enough capital to start this business, which I dreamt of doing for a long period of time," says Mukandoli, a resident of Ngoma sector, Huye District.
The farmer had been vending clothes around Huye town for four years, but says was not earning enough money from the business. "So, I had to think big if I was to improve my life," she adds.
I was convinced that any amount of money can be used as start-up capital once one thinks big.
"However, it is important to make sure you save a small portion of your earnings to accumulate enough savings over time. But whatever your earnings, think broadly and plan for it very well on how you can invest it to generate more income," says the 33-year-old farmer, who is now living a comfortable life thanks to cuniculture project.
Cuniculture is the breeding and rearing of domestic rabbits.
Mukandoli started raising rabbits about two years ago with the total start-up capital of Rwf500,000 that she had saved over a period of three years. Initially, she bought 20 rabbits that cost her Rwf40,000. She had already built 70 cages for the project.
The mother of two says she was inspired by the desire to be self-reliant and financially independent, earning her own income and not wait on her husband for all the family needs.
Mukandoli got the idea of rearing rabbits on a commercial basis because she had done the same business when she was a teen but not as an income-generating project per se.
"I remember, when I was 17 year-old, I had three rabbits and was able to sell their off-springs to get some money to buy clothes and all other basic needs. I did not want to depend on my parents for everything. That's how I started developing interest in business and entrepreneurship," she narrates.
Mukandoli could earn an average of Rwf20,000 per month from her three rabbits. Rabbits produce monthly if they are well looked after and fed rightly. It was the good memories of the earlier project as a teenager that reignited the desire to again venture into rabbit rearing on a commercial basis.
Sustainable income stream
Mukandoli has been earning steady income for the past two years of the project. This influenced her decision to dedicate more time to the venture to make it more profitable and a sustainable income stream for the family.
Now the project boasts of 200 rabbits, and it was for this growth that she was forced to employ someone to help her out, she says.
She adds that she can sell about two rabbits per day mainly to bars, people with parties, meat dealers and other clients. She sells the rabbits (for meat) between Rwf3,000 and Rwf5,000 each, while those who want a bunny (young rabbit) part with Rwf1,000 each. On average, Mukandoli earns Rwf100,000 per month.
"I opened a bank account, and I am an economically independent woman. I am currently planning to open other businesses," she says.
The farmer says the business faces many challenges, including disease outbreaks particularly during the rainy season.
"It is hard to care for rabbits in rainy seasons as they catch disease easily, mainly bloat ( known locally as 'ubujanja'). The problem is made more complicated because rabbits can hide the sickness, meaning one must always be vigilant to avoid mass deaths from the disease," she explains.
Bloat is a condition in which the rabbits' stomach becomes stretched by excessive gas content. She says one should never feed rabbits on wet foods.
Mukandoli also says she does not have enough space as she rears her rabbits in the compound, which has affected her expansion programme.
Though the cuniculture sector has huge potential, the farmer says it has been neglected by government extension workers and is underdeveloped comparing to others.
A message to the unemployed
Mukandoli is an example of how small savings can transform the saver's life. Furthermore, she admits that the rabbit rearing business has changed her life for better, adding that the enterprise is well-suited for rural communities and should be promoted as one of the key initiatives to fight poverty in rural areas countrywide. She notes that rabbits start producing at about six months of age, adding that cuniculture is one of the easiest businesses that can be done by anyone since it does not require a lot of money to start.
"You can even raise rabbits in your compound and then start reaping big in short period of time," she says.
"When you are unemployed, don't wait for a loan to start a business. With little capital, starting with just two hutches of rabbits can change your life as they multiply fast," she advises.
Besides, hayrack in every rabbits' hutch, any other kind of vegetable parings are the simple foods for rabbits, she adds, noting that this makes them less of a burden as far as feeding is concerned.
What others say about Mukandoli's project
Mukandoli has demostrated how one can develop themselves using little money. It is amazing how she dared to start her business that others fear. Besides, her resilience and hard work inspire other women to become self-reliant and agents of change which help develop society.
Rearing rabbits as the simple venture teaches unemployed people how they can use a little money they have to start small income-generating projects to improve their livelihood. Mukandoli's venture underlines that people shouldn't lose hope or wait to amass large amounts of money to start a business that can transform their life.
Aline Umutoni, Ngoma resident
Mukandoli teaches us many lessons as female farmers. She has become a shining example of how women should not undermine their potential and role in the societal wellbeing as innovators and drivers of development.
From Mukandoli's example, we now see that it is possible for rural women to be financially independent and bread winners for their families.
This is what women emancipation is all about.