Nelly Bassily | December 17, 2012
Jonathan Mensah is not your typical livestock farmer. Though he keeps his animals in wood and wire cages, they are not chickens or rabbits, as you might guess. They are large rodents known as grasscutters. Grasscutter meat is prized for being sweet and lean. And Mr. Mensah’s choice to raise these animals has paid great dividends.
Mr. Mensah lives in a village just 30 minutes by car from Ghana’s sprawling capital city of Accra. He owns about one hectare of farmland. Prior to taking up grasscutters, he struggled to provide for his family of six. Vegetable farming did not produce enough income. Then he lost his job with the Animal Health and Production Department. Mr. Mensah remembers, “I lost everything. I became poorer and poorer. I had to start my life again.”
His fresh start began when he heard that an NGO was providing livestock to local farmers. He and 35 other farmers were accepted into a program by Heifer Ghana. They received five grasscutters each, along with housing for the animals and training on how to raise them.
Grasscutters, which are also known as cane rats, are native to much of central and West Africa. They have long been a favourite food for many in the region. They were among the most hunted animals and their meat attracted a premium price. But prior to the 1970s, they lived only in the wild.
Roland Kanlisi is the interim program director for Heifer Ghana. He was intrigued by the potential of domesticating grasscutters. On learning that farmers in Benin were raising the animals, he visited them to learn from their success. The organization decided to import 300 grasscutters from Benin to share with Ghanaian farmers. Today, more than 100 farmers in Mr. Mensah’s village raise grasscutters.
There are many benefits to this alternative livestock. As their name suggests, they feed on grasses, which farmers can grow or harvest from the wild. And because they are a native species, they are resistant to disease. One downside to raising grasscutters is that they have a long gestation period – about five months, similar to goats.
Mr. Mensah sells grasscutters for meat or for others to raise. It’s a year-round business that is especially brisk at Christmas, when grasscutter meat makes a popular holiday meal. He sells an average of five grasscutters a month and earns an annual income of 1,400 American dollars.
This income has helped him open a savings account and build a second home on his property, which he gave to two of his children. He also adopted his brother’s orphaned children and provides them with private schooling.
Now Mr. Mensah is determined to help other farmers get started with grasscutters. When a farmer buys a grasscutter to raise, he provides training free of charge. He intends to start a training centre at his home. Mr. Mensah says, “A lot of young men who go to Accra cannot get jobs because they don’t have skills. So we will train them in grasscutters.”