27-year-old university graduate Eric Manirakiza's rabbits increased from 100 in 2016 to 2,900 currently as his entreprise has been steadily growing. But recently, he was unable to supply a 15 tonne-rabbit meat export market per month to Belgium as his production is far less than the demand.
At his farm, Manirakiza produces 200 kilogrammes of rabbit meat per month. And when he adds rabbit meat from other rabbits farmers he works with, he gets about 800 kilogrammes per month.
Manirakiza told The New Times that he supplies about 400 kilogrammes of that meat to three hotels (two in Muhanga District, and other one in Huye District of Southern Province Rwanda).
He sells a kilogramme at Rwf3,000. On average, a rabbit weighs five kilogrammes when it turns five month old, and, it is sold at Rwf7,000. The weight of a rabbit's meat is equivalent of half of its total weight when alive.
Eric Manirakiza is a rabbit farmer, and founder of Impano Rabbitry Company, which is based in Ruhango District. He graduated in 2014 in ICT programming at the University of Rwanda's College of Science and Technology.
"Buyers in Belgium craved for the meat of my rabbit and they wanted me to supply them 15 tonnes per month; unfortunately, I could not meet that demand," he said adding rabbit farming is a money-making business, and that the market for the meat is available both domestically and internationally as hotels have expressed interest to have it on their menus.
According to Jean Baptiste Hategekimana, the export market that was discovered for Rwanda's organic rabbit meat last year in countries like Belgium and Canada was demanding 15 tonnes of meat per week or 60 tonnes per month, explaining that a kilogramme should bring a net profit of $5 (over Rwf4,000) compared to the local price.
Hero Shyaka, 27, has about 200 rabbits in his Rabbit Farm in Bugesera District. Shyaka graduated in development studies at Uganda Christian University, in 2014.
He said he engaged in rabbit farming after realising that it is an agribusiness that has potential as rabbit multiplies quickly such that one gives birth to an average of seven at once, explaining that the gestation - the process or period of developing inside the womb between conception and birth - is only one month.
A rabbit client wants him to supply him 500 rabbits per week, which he cannot manage currently because his production is still low.
"There is a ready market for rabbit meat. People are changing lifestyle, they need healthy foods or diet. Rabbit meat is even good for people with heart disease because it is low in cholesterol but reach in protein. It can be good for people who do not want to be fat or put on more weight," Shyaka said as he gave some reasons why people have growing interest in the intake of the meat.
Hategekimana said "We have not yet tapped into such a potential rabbit meat export market because we cannot undertake supply of a business whose market we are not able to supply," he said.
Ways to tap into rabbit farming opportunities
As people who studied agribusiness, Hategekimana said, they are developing a plan for distribution of breeds and looking at efficient training on farm business management "which will make sure we have strong youth incubation businesses."
He called for funding mechanisms to help people engaged in rabbit farming to expand their production so that they make use of the business opportunities that this livestock sub-sector presents.
"Currently, we have started distribution of the rabbit breeds, then, we will start exporting meat with a production [per week] from 2020, because it is not only the export market that is targeted as we also have deficiency at the Rwandan market," Hatagekimana said.
To feed his rabbits during dry spells, Manirakiza is using a technology called hydroponics - the method of growing plants without the use of soil, but using nutrient rich water solution - on a tent in a covered structure. The grass can be fed to his rabbits after seven days of cultivation, helping him address fodder shortage during drought.
Speaking during an interview with The New Times, the Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources (MINAGI), Dr. Geradine Mukeshimana said that having a rabbit meat export market is an opportunity that is worth investing in.
"Investors need to concentrate on that investment opportunity. The agriculture we want is agriculture that is investing, that is making money," she said observing that an export market needs significant investment that can help meet the required supply quantity, safety and standards.
She said that the government will provide training need to enhance the performance of farmers, and meet standards required by export markets.
"If there are youths who know markets requirement but have a finance challenge, they can come and we discuss it [so that they secure funding], adding that the government set up an export growth fund in the Development Bank of Rwanda (BRD) in order to support exporters, who have got market, get commodities to supply it.