The Women’s Rabbit Association, which had humble beginnings on a school farm in Western Kenya, has earned international recognition, making it to the final 14 in a continental competition.
Though the agribusiness project never eventually won the $20,000 prize money in the competition, it keeps some 15 women fully occupied, and pay school fees for more than 10 children.
All this began in 2009, with a teenager, Laetitia Mukungu, who then was 13 years old. Ms Mukungu had completed her primary education at Nairobi Primary School and was admitted to Precious Blood Girls’ School Riruta in Nairobi. But school fees was a problem, and the first born in a family of three children missed school for a year. To while away the time, she taught primary school children at the Bukura Education Complex, a private school in Western Kenya. It is during her interaction with the pupils that she observed that some of them regularly skipped school and that they all had one thing in common — they came from single-parent families.
“School fees was a major problem for some of these kids who came from very poor homes. This would trouble me a lot, despite the fact that I was also at home due to the same predicament,” said Ms Mukungu from her new institution in South Africa.
The children, she says, would not have enough to eat at home, and they also had no money to pay for their tuition. She had to think of a way to help them so that they could get enough food and remain in school.
She came up with an idea to start an agricultural project that would give the single-parent families income to sustain their households. Ms Mukungu realised that rabbit meat was in demand though there was no establishment where the animals were reared.
“I went to Bukura Agricultural Institute to seek information. That is where I learnt that rabbit-rearing can be beneficial in that they take a very short time to mature, their droppings can be used as organic manure, and their urine for pesticide,” she said.
But to build hutches and buy rabbits, Ms Mukungu needed Sh40,000. She then went to the school head teacher and presented her business idea. The head teacher was willing to fund the project, though Ms Mukungu would need to repay the loan. But that was not all. The teenager had to convince the women to work with her on the project. Her only entry point would be through their children.
“I would follow the children to their homes so that I could talk to their parents. I explained to them why they needed to join and work with me on this project because it would eventually improve their lives,” she says.
“I had major problems trying to explain to them how keeping rabbits can help their lives. Besides, they would look at me as ‘this small girl’ so I had to keep educating them to open their eyes further.”
With the Sh40,000 and enough faith, Ms Mukungu set off for the unknown. She started by having the rabbit hutches made, and then got 15 bunnies to start off the project. Some women accepted to join her efforts. They were set for the adventurous journey.
The school was even more generous, and offered part of its land for subsistence farming.
“They use the manure from rabbit droppings in the maize farm. So far, we have a sizeable chunk of land under maize, which the women will share after harvesting,” says Ms Mukungu. From an initial 15 rabbits, the project now holds an impressive 600 bunnies. According to Ms Mukungu, there are 200 rabbits added to the project every year. A fully grown rabbit can fetch Sh4,000 and she has already spotted a good market for them.
After paying off the loan, she started a microfinanceproject whose membership comprises these women. Income from rabbit sales is lent to the women who repay it at quite fair interest rates.
“I lend the women from Sh5,000 to Sh10,000 and they repay within a year, with an interest of Sh500.”
Currently, the women can comfortably feed their households from the school farm, and extra harvest is sold in the local market. The women have also began their own businesses from loans from the microfinance institution. The rabbits are sold to a local butchery, and some of the income is used in expanding the project.
Ms Mukungu is now studying leadership and entrepreneurship at African Leadership Academy in South Africa on a two- year scholarship. She however hopes that her project will not only send children to school but see more women become economically empowered. She says she looks forward to buying a large piece of land in the area to help the women achieve food security.
“I want to see the project breed up to 800 rabbits every year, up from 600. I also want to get my own slaughterhouse so that I can sell the rabbit fur to bring in an extra income,” observes the teenager.
She hopes that the project will help more women, and in turn more children, bringing financial freedom to households in Bukura.
The 15 women can now get a small income out of their efforts on the farm and the rabbits, but her major goal to empower women is what drives her efforts. She hopes that the microfinance project will also grow so as to lend money to more women in the area.