Jackson Mugisha had little connection to farming as a businessman. But farming had a way of finding him. A produce buyer, Mugisha set out on a quest to find more money-making avenues.
About two years ago with co-founder Joanna Haba and funding from The Microfinance Support Centre (MSc), Mugisha ventured into rabbit meat processing giving rise to Bendito Cuts, a premium rabbit sausages business.
Rabbit sausages are considered a healthy option but it is just one of the products a rabbit can give a farmer. Mugisha harvests urine which he sells as organic foliar fertiliser under the brand High Yield.
“Everything the rabbit produces is money,” the 50-year old, says. “After selling the meat, I ferment urine as fertiliser. The waste is a rich fertiliser too. The skin is in high demand with craft shoe makers. Basically, I throw away nothing,” Mugisha says.
He points out that greater efficiency and profitability are the driving force behind his newfound passion in commercial rabbit farming.
“Agriculture is central to many aspects of our society in terms of food security, health and poverty alleviation. As Bendito, we are trying to help become more efficient and more profitable by adding value to rabbit meat,” he adds.
Bendito Mixed Farm is located on a 20-acre piece of leased land in Ziroobwe Sub-county in Luweero District where it has three big rabbit houses.
Bendito Farm is incubated at the Uganda Industrial Research Institute (UIRI) for processing facilities of rabbit meat and fertiliser. Launched in 2017, the company has raised a stock of more than 1,000 rabbits and by September 2018 they had reported a net profit of Shs138m.
Incorporated as a family business in 2016 with his wife Joanna Haba in Kyanja, the farm invested about Shs7.5m and 10 rabbits. The farm began by gaining profits from rabbit urine and waste which they still harvest until today.
Later in 2017, the Microfinance Support Centre (MSC) offered a hand of Shs300m to establish what is now a model farm at Kabulanaka Village. The MSC, a government-funded financial services company, offers micro credit programmes under the Rural Financial Services Strategy.
MSC supports entities engaged in the value chain namely; agricultural production value chain and marketing enterprises. Besides credit, MSC provides capacity building for sustainably.
In commercial rabbit production, the difference between profitable and unprofitable is the ability of fryer rabbits (bunnies ear marked for selling for meat) to weigh about two kilogrammes within eight weeks. This is because every day past that period costs more money in additional feed and cage space.
This is achieved through good practices that include; feeds high in protein and fibre, excellent stock, getting rabbits early on pellets, faster weaning especially after 28 days and enough cage space. Yet commercial farming requires enough stock to be able to meet market demand.
Rabbit farms such as Bendito, Rab Farm, Agrosol, Vert Fields, and Learn Enterprises cannot consistently produce enough meat to satisfy the local market.
Yet the export market is there for the taking. Germany, Belgium, and Italy are the largest rabbit meat importers with an estimated revenue of $1.3b (Shs4.9 trillion).
“When more people get to appreciate the health benefits of consuming rabbit meat, we shall have more people involved,” Mugisha explains.
According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), domestic rabbit meat is the most nutritious meat known to man. Their research findings concluded that rabbit meat has been recommended for heart disease patients, the elderly, low sodium diets, and weight reduction diets.
Bendito’s farm at Kabulanaka Village is supplemented by a contract farming scheme for youth and women groups which are funded with the help of MSC.
Tukolerewamu Women’s Group, Dundu in Kyampisi Sub-county, Mukono District is among the five youth and women groups beefing up Benditos’ supply.
The mother body, Dundu Parish Multipurpose Society has 60 members who are involved in different activities including: grocery trading, art and craft, produce growing as well as savings and loans.
It began as an adult learning class in 2016 before the current transformation. Sarah Nakizza, the group leader explains that although benefits are yet to be reaped, the prospects are good.
The group received seed capital of 11 rabbits. Three died in the first month but they now have a stock of 74 bunnies.
“We do not have concerns about the market because that is guaranteed through our contract with Bendito Farm,” she said. The group seeks Shs4.9m to build more cages.
Bendito currently supplies its meat to Capital Shoppers Supermarket and Torino Restaurant. Before the lockdown, Mugisha averaged sales of one tonne every month although this has dropped to less than 100 kilogrammes during this ongoing Covid-19 lockdown.
“Many supermarkets, restaurants and hotels have a growing demand for rabbit meat and are looking for consistent suppliers to satisfy their demand sustainably.
We plan to fill this gap by investing in the expansion of our farm stock,” Mugisha says.
Farm gate prices for a kilogramme of sausages is Shs23,000 while a litre of foliar fertilisers is Shs20,000. The market of rabbits in Uganda is still nascent due to cultural tendencies and competing sources of animal protein. For instance, some women in Uganda believe that eating rabbit meat would make them produce children with long rabbit like ears.
Nduho Mugyenyi, the Rabbit Project Coordinator at MSC says rabbit farming has been taken as a funding area because it can be an instrument for poverty alleviation.
“We would like to engage youth and women in productive long-term money-making activities,” Mugyenyi says. Both groups, he adds, are financially excluded by major credit facilities because they normally don’t have security for credit financing.
Apart from pellets, readily available fresh-cut forages can be used as feed. But they must be safeguarded against predators and thieves.
Currently, the slaughtering and deboning are done from his home in Kyanja before meat is taken to UIRI for value addition.
Mugisha plans to expand by acquiring his own slaughter house and to diversify into more products like frankfurters as well as importing the fast maturing Flemish Giants breed.
Some years ago, rabbit keeping was a children’s activity, with many keeping the animals as pets. However, with most people embracing rabbit meat and more opportunities arising from the animal’s by-products, farmers are now making good money from rabbits.