Côte d’Ivoire: Concerned about avian flu, poultry farmers diversify with rabbits (Fraternité Matin)

| December 1, 2008

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Afian Michel knows first hand that all livestock are vulnerable to disease. First, the Ivorian farmer saw swine fever sweep through his country a decade ago. Now he’s concerned about avian flu. On his land outside of Cola village, Mr. Michel continues to focus on poultry. But recently, he made room for some rabbits. He says farmers are never safe from animal diseases, so they must diversify to remain profitable.

Mr. Michel is one of many Ivorian poultry farmers diversifying their livestock holdings with rabbits. The move follows the arrival of H5N1, a highly-pathogenic strain of avian influenza, or bird flu, in Africa.

Bird flu was first detected in sub-Saharan African in early 2006, when infected birds were found in Nigeria. Since then, the virus has been detected in several West African countries. Côte d’Ivoire reported outbreaks of H5N1 in wildlife and domestic poultry in April 2006. Following widespread culls aimed at eradicating the disease, the Ivorian government reported the outbreaks resolved in March 2007. The latest outbreak of bird flu in Africa was reported in Togo this September.

Prior to the arrival of avian flu, Bamba Tiéfi Paul’s kept only 40 rabbits on his farm, near a residential area of Cola. Now, rabbit cages spread out over a large area. Inside the cages, some 1,000 rabbits are organized according to weight, age, and sex. Hundreds of male rabbits are ready to be sold in the nearby market.

The demand for rabbit meat in Côte d’Ivoire has grown in parallel to the increase in rabbit farming. Rabbit meat is valued for its tenderness, nutritional value, and low fat content. Supermarkets and restaurants are major consumers. Rabbit meat is also an important source of nutrition for farming families.

Another advantage of rabbits is that they do not require a great deal of space. Unlike chicken cages, you can stack rabbit cages one on top of another. Déhon Margueritte keeps rabbits in her home. She began with about a dozen female rabbits in 2003, and says it was easy to learn how to care for them. One female can produce up to 40 offspring per year, and so her rabbit stock grew. Mrs. Margueritte now earns 450,000 CFA (about 870 American dollars or 680 Euros) each month. She affirms that rabbits keep food on her table.