WRSA - Rabbit production in developing countries


Ghana's National Rabbit Project


Story adapted by Steven D. Lukefahr

WRSA General Secretary for Developing Countries
Texas A&M University-Kingsville, USA



This story was adapted from "Ghana's Rabbit Project." (Anonymous author)
Africa Report. January-February 1979.

(Photos provided by S.D. Lukefahr).


"Get the Rabbit Habit!" "Make the Bunny Money!" From the capital city of Accra to northern areas bordering on the Sahel, the catchy jingles sing out from Ghana's radios and television sets. "Grow Rabbits, Grow Children." "Rear Them, Control Them, Use Them" - along the roadways and in public squares, and advice is blazoned across colorfully illustrated billboards and posters. The publicity is part of a nationwide multimedia communications campaign backing Ghana's National Rabbit Project, which promotes backyard rabbit breeding as a self-help means of increasing meat supplies at low cost and with a minimum of extra effort.


The rabbit project is part of Ghana's nationwide drive to achieve food self-sufficiency to which the government has been committed for several years. Though the country now produces all of its own rice and nearly enough corn to meet requirements of its more than nine and a half million people, there is still a chronic shortage of meat. When animal products do find their way to market, they are priced far beyond the means of the majority of the population.


The rabbit has several characteristics which make it ideal as a source of meat in developing countries. Most significant is the very rapid pace at which it multiplies. The gestation period is only 31 days, and a healthy female is able to produce three or four litters averaging six to eight offspring every year. Starting with a buck and a doe (each costing $8.00 in Ghana), a backyard breeder can obtain a quantity of meat over the course of a year equal to the weight of an entire cow! One rabbit is just the right size to feed an average family, and the supply of meat is continuous.

Rabbit food is readily available in Ghana. The animals will eat almost anything, including table scraps, leftovers from sugar cane harvests, various kinds of grass, and other local flora such as groundnut and sweet potato vines. Dried cassava provides good bulk for their diet, and brewer's mash, left as a residue from millet beer and formerly discarded as useless, furnishes an excellent source of protein.


While rabbits must have clean quiet quarters and special care in order to thrive, their upkeep is not difficult and requires no great amount of time. People who work during the day can easily tend to them in mornings and evenings. Hutches are simple to construct from locally available materials.

In Ghana, the wild native "rabbit" has always been highly prized by villagers, though these days it is very difficult to find. Any backyard breed which managed to gnaw through its cage would soon find its way into a stewpot!

Besides food, other uses of rabbit might also be of economic benefit to developing countries. Rabbit fur is a main ingredient of felt, and pelts can be used to make hats and coats. The brain is used in making a blood-clotting agent widely used in hospitals. Fine rabbit leather, or vellum, has the ideal tension and quality required for tiny drive belts used in tape recorders and other delicate machines.

The originator and director of Ghana's National Rabbit Project is Newlove Mamattah, a former adult educator who has had a consuming interest in rabbit breeding for more than 38 years. Mamattah's work, which began in his own backyard, has attracted considerable international attention. Currently, he is general secretary for developing countries of the World Rabbit Science Association.


Back in 1972, Mamattah was able to obtain a modest grant of about $140,000 from the government's National Redemption Council. This enabled him to establish "Rabbit for Food for the Millions" on a 32-hectare farm at Kwabenya, some 24 kilometers outside of Accra, with an initial stock of 80 breeding animals. At the end of 1977, the nation's first national rabbit census counted 13,948 rabbits owned by registered breeders throughout the country.

Since the wild local rabbit is a small animal, weighing approximately two pounds, the development of hybrids yielding more meat, but hardy enough to do well in Ghana's varying climactic conditions, has been a prime objective. The Swiss government provided 120 rabbits to get Mamattah's project under way, and other exotic breeds have come from Australia, Belgium, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and the United States. Breeding is scientifically controlled, and the ear of each rabbit is stamped with a serial number documenting its parentage.


Technoserve, a private, nonprofit American foundation that helps small businesses get started, was enlisted to make the project a smooth-running operation.

Though Mamattah's project continued to generate interest, Ghana's Ministry of Agriculture did not give it any support until Joseph Ascroft, a Malawi national on leave from his post as professor of communications in the School of Journalism at the University of Iowa, arrived on the scene. In 1974, Ascroft came to Ghana as project manager of a multimedia "information Support Unit" and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), helped set up within the Ministry of Agriculture. One of the first duties was to find projects in need of communications support so that he might apply various techniques, training Ghanaian communications workers in the process. Believing in Mamattah and his rabbits, Ascroft persuaded the ministry to "let him make all his mistakes" on the endeavour before tackling the projects to which they were committed.


A comprehensive booklet on breeding rabbits was Ascroft's first production. This was sent out to extension agents and provoked a good response. "But we realized we could not go very far without the ministry's support, he says. A scheme was devised to persuade officials to back Mamattah. A reception was to be held to honor a retiring commissioner of agriculture and welcome his successor. Catering being among the responsibilities of the Information Support Unit, Ascroft asked Newlove Mamattah - as proficient in cooking rabbits as he is in breeding them - to prepare some rabbit dishes, camouflaged to look like breast of chicken. The event was timed for 6:00 p.m. so that guests would have an appetite. Attractive young ladies were recruited to pass the food around.

"They ate the stuff," says Ascroft. "They thought it was chicken. They wondered to what expense I'd gone to buy only chicken breasts." When the truth was revealed at the end of the party, the new commissioner was very impressed. "Excellent!" he exclaimed. "Is this one of my things?" "Yes, this is one of the big campaigns," came the reply. "Suddenly all the reservations against rabbit meat disappeared," says Ascroft.

Since then the publicity campaign has been in full swing and the project has grown by leaps and bounds. Posters, all done by local artists, generated widespread interest. The large Kingsway supermarket in Accra agreed to sell rabbit on an experimental basis and its entire stock vanished within an hour. Schools included rabbit breeding in their curricula and provided students with lunches containing the only meat they had had for weeks. A two-minute television spot provided for the project in England dominated Ghana's airwaves for three months. In Accra, 160 people showed up to form a national rabbit breeder's association, many travelling from distant regions at their own expense. Competitions were held to choose a "Rabiteer of the Year."


At the present time, the call for breeding stock is enormous. Hybrids are sold to farmers only after they have attended a three-day comprehensive course in rabbit breeding and care and following an inspection of their premises. With its limited resources, the National Rabbit Project is unable to keep pace with demand.

"With chickens you're always working backwards," says Ascroft. "In one typical case, only 49 chickens remained out of 100 day-old chicks after three months. With rabbits the opposite happens - 50 rabbits had multiplied to 120 over the same period. So we've forgotten all about chickens."

N.B. The author had the good fortune to have visited the NRP on several occasions.
In 1983, I first met Mr. Mamattah, who was by then retired as NRP director (photo). Conservative estimates indicate that over 37,000 Ghanaians directly benefited from the NRP through training and/or provision of breeding stock. Sadly, the National Rabbit Project was closed several years ago. Nonetheless, for many years it also served as a role model to other developing countries in terms of government's role and duty in feeding its people.

References on the National Rabbit Project:

Anonymous. 1979. Ghana's rabbit project. Africa Report, January-February 1978, pp. 47-48.

Lukefahr, S.D. 2000. The National Rabbit Project population of Ghana: a genetic case study. In: Workshop on Developing Breeding Strategies for Lower Input Animal Production Environments, September 22-25, 1999. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, Rome. ICAR Tech. Series No. 3:307-318.

Lukefahr, S.D., J.K.A. Atakora, and E.M. Opoku. 1992. Heritability of 90-day body weight in domestic rabbits from tropical Ghana, West Africa. J. Hered. 83:105-108.

Mamattah, N. 1978. Sociological aspects of introducing rabbits into farm practices. In: Workshop on Rabbit Husbandry in Africa, December 16-21, 1978. International Foundation for Science (IFS), Stockholm. pp. 93-99.

Opoku, E.M., and S.D. Lukefahr. 1990. Rabbit production and development in Ghana: The National Rabbit Project experience. J. Appl. Rabbit Res. 13:189-192.

Owen, J.E. 1981. Rabbit meat for the developing countries. Wld. Anim. Rev. 39:2-11.

Owen, J.E., D.J. Morgan, and J. Barlow. 1977. The rabbit as a producer of meat and skins in developing countries. Rep. Trop. Prods. Inst., G108, V.

Technoserve. 1975. Project Study: National Rabbit Project - A Rabbit Production Enterprise. Project Reference No. 3/12/0115. August 1975, pp. 1-57.