This article first appeared on Business Insider SA. Click here to read the original article.

Farming rabbits could be a way for small-scale South African farmers to get into exports for just R35 000 in startup costs.

Small start-up, big profits

This is according to Pertunia Setumo, agricultural economist at First National Bank’s business unit. Setumo believes investing in rabbit farms could provide food security for small-scale African farmers while also generating cash.

“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. This excludes structures (which require capital investment depending on the size of the operation) and ad hoc fixed costs,” said Setumo. 

Over 80% of the rabbits bred in South Africa are destined for export. The meat is mostly destined for China, which has a huge demand despite being the largest producer of rabbits.

Demand for rabbit is increasing

According to Setumo, demand has more than doubled since 2013, led by strong consumption. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), an estimated 1,2 billion rabbits are slaughtered annually. 

There is also potential in the South African market. Rabbit farms are less demanding than farming other livestock. They are easier to maintain and require less land and resources than other types of livestock farms. Maturation periods are short with roughly 51 days to reach a marketable weight of 2,2 kilograms and ideal weights of 3,5 kilograms. This can all be achieved in three month.

Setumo says it costs about R55 to feed a bunny to maturation stage, consuming a mere 9,2kg feed on average. 

SA can benefit from eating more rabbit

South Africans could also benefit from eating a lot more rabbit meat. Rabbit is considered to have a lower calorie count per serving and a high protein concentration compared to beef, lamb, chicken, fish, and pork. Yet it is still a relatively unpopular dish in South Africa.  

“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.

“Farmers who are starting out are also advised to partner with various rabbit farming clubs and associations across the country,” says Setumo. – Jay Caboz, Business Insider SA