Livestock Research for Rural Development 31 (5) 2019 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

The rabbit value chain in Kenya: A framework for food policy and research

Chrispinus Mutsami, John Mburu, Margaret Wanyoike1 and Sharon Ochieng2

Department of Agricultural Economics, University of Nairobi, Kenya
1 Department of Animal Science, University of Nairobi, Kenya
2 Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness Management, Egerton University, Kenya


Demand for livestock meat is expected to double with greatest increases in urban areas by 2030. However, the supply of meat across the country is not projected to be in line with the estimated demand. The situation is therefore expected to pose unprecedented challenges related to hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition. To meet the high demand for animal products, alternative sustainable sources of protein need to be considered. Among the available options, rabbit production has been identified as a suitable sustainable alternative for animal protein. This study aimed at assessing the structure and functionality of rabbit value chain in Kenya by applying a value chain mapping technique. Data used for analysis were collected through focus group discussions (FGDs), key informant interviews (KII) and household surveys in Kiambu, Nakuru and Nyeri counties of Kenya to obtain both qualitative and quantitative information on people and products in the rabbit value chain. We found that the most common type of rabbit production in Kenya was small scale with 68 percent of farmers keeping less than 10 rabbits. We identified various linkages across the rabbit value chain. About 60 percent of small-scale farmers sourced their rabbit stock from neighbors. The urban consumer paid the highest amount per kilogram of rabbit meat. Interestingly, we found that those who slaughtered rabbits threw away the skin or fed it to dogs. This is an indication of lack of skin value addition in the study areas. Diseases and parasites were the main challenges faced by producers. There is need for all-inclusive interventions that are aimed at every segment of the rabbit value chain so as to improve the performance of the sector. The rabbit value chain structure, therefore, provides a crucial framework for interventions by various stakeholders.

Key words: intervention, mapping, value addition


In Kenya, the demand for livestock products especially meat has increased over the last century due to changes in consumption patterns, increase in per capita income, urbanization and demographic changes (Kiambi et al 2018). It is estimated that demand for meat in Kenya will double with greatest increases in urban areas by the year 2030 (Bett et al 2012). However, meat supply across the country is not projected to be in line with the estimated demand. The situation is therefore expected to pose unprecedented challenges related to hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition. To meet the high demand for animal products, alternative sustainable sources of protein need to be considered (Akinmutimi 2007). Among the available options, the rabbit ( Oryctolagus cuniculus) has been identified as a suitable alternative (Mailafia et al 2010; Hassan et al 2012; Mailu et al 2013) owing to its unique features such as fast growth rate, high fecundity, high feed conversion efficiency and early maturity.

An exhaustive study of rabbit value chain in Kenya to investigate the strengths and weaknesses of the sector and assess how it can help to address reduced meat supply is vital. A few studies have attempted to study rabbit industry in Kenya (Borter and Mwanza 2011; Mailu et al 2013; Hungu et al 2013; Kitavi et al 2015). However, none has delved into mapping rabbit value chain. In addition, unlike other value chain studies which only show general flows of products, the current study provides a detailed and precise description of what is happening at each stage of rabbit value chain. Such information is essential in understanding the general rabbit sector in Kenya.

Mapping, one of the four main procedures of assessing value chain analysis, is adopted for this study (Fabe et al 2009; Kaplinsky and Morris 2000). A mapped value chain presents systematically analyzed actors, their inter- and intra-relationships, and main economic activities at each segment with the related physical and monetary flows (Fabe et al 2009; Kiambi et al 2018). The main segments considered during value chain mapping include input supply, production, processing, distribution and marketing (Mutsami 2018).

Overview of the rabbit sector in Kenya

Rabbit keeping in Kenya dates back when colonialists and missionaries first came in the country during the 19th Century. The first exotic breeds were introduced in central region and then later spread to other parts of the country (Republic of Kenya 2012). Rabbits were first adopted by people from central Kenya who kept them as pets for children and dog food. Over the years, rabbit keeping has spread to other parts of the country due to the recognition of its importance as an alternative source of food especially proteins and source of income to households. In early 1980s, there was collaboration between the government of Kenya and Germany to promote the industry by establishment of Ngong Veterinary Farm with the main goal of providing breeding material for farmers throughout the country.

The main breeds in the country include Californian, the Chinchilla, the Flemish Giant and the New Zealand White and cross breeds including Kenya white (Mailu et al 2013). Rabbit farming in Kenya has been improving over the last decade. Moreover, most producers participating in the industry have accrued good profits and at the same time formed farmer groups. This is revealed by the increasing number of rabbits in the country. Data from FAOSTAT (2017) showed that the rabbit population increased from 534,000 in 2010 to 961,000 in 2015 (Figure 1). Rabbit meat production has also shown an upward trend. Meat production was estimated at 348 MT in 2015 valued at Kshs 139 million (US$ 1.39 million) (FAOSTAT, 2017). This was higher compared to 2010 when rabbit meat produced was estimated to be 233 MT valued at Kshs 93 million (US$ 0.93 million). This improvement in both the quantity and value of rabbit meat may be attributed to the publicity rabbit farming enterprise has received in the past (Ogola et al 2017).

Figure 1. Number of rabbits in Kenya
Source: Food and Agriculture Organisation Statistics (FAOSTAT) 2017

Materials and Methods

Study area

The study was conducted in three counties of central Kenya namely Kiambu, Nakuru, and Nyeri (see Figure 2). These study areas were chosen because they had the largest number of farmers keeping rabbits (see Wanyoike et al 2013). Rabbit farming started being promoted by the National Agriculture and Extension Program (NALEP) in 2000 (Borter and Mwanza 2010).

Figure 2. Map of Kenya showing the study areas

Primary data was gathered by interviewing value chain actors. Multistage sampling technique was employed to attain the sample size of 230 producers. In the first stage, three counties that is, Kiambu, Nakuru and Nyeri, were purposively selected due to the high number of farmers involved in rabbit keeping (Serem et al 2013; Okumu et al 2014). In the second stage, two sub-counties were randomly selected from each county. In the third stage, a selection of two wards was done with the help of county agricultural officers. In the fourth stage, five villages from each of the selected wards were randomly selected. Village elders from each of the villages were then requested to help in coming up with a list of households. The names of household heads were recorded. Systematic random sampling was then adopted to choose households from each village so as to reach at the desired sample size of 230. A snowballing technique and referrals from farmers were used to reach 80 rabbit traders operating in the three counties.

The study also used focus group discussions (FGD) and key informant interviews to understand the current situation of rabbit farming in the study areas. In addition, the information from FGDs and key informant interviews aided to validate questions that were included in the questionnaires. In order to allow for gender equality, both female and male participants were invited for both FGD and key informant interviews. Due to financial constraints, one FGD was organized in each sub-county with representation from all villages. We conducted key informant interviews (KIIs) with relevant senior staff serving both county and sub-county livestock ministries and departments. Additionally, officials of rabbit associations such as Rabbit Association of Kenya (RABAK) were interviewed with an aim of validating the developed questionnaire. In addition, the interviews with rabbit industry experts helped in developing an initial flow diagram of the rabbit sector in Kenya.

A qualitative analysis was done to assess the developing themes that define patterns of operations, how people or stakeholders interact and the movement of produce, products and inputs. The flowcharts generated in each FGD and KIIs were used to come up with advance rabbit value chain structure. The questionnaire data were captured in Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) VERSION 22. Both Excel and STATA version 14 were used for data analysis including computing descriptive statistics such as means and standard deviations and frequencies.

Results and discussion

Production at Farm Level

It was revealed that majority (68%) of farmers in the three counties or regions were keeping rabbits with than 10 rabbits per household (Figure 3). This finding is in line with Hungu et al (2013) and Serem et al (2013) who found that majority of rabbit farmers in the Kenya practiced small-scale rabbit farming.

Figure 3. Number of rabbits kept by farmers
Source: Author’s survey 2017

About 60 percent of farmers sourced their parent stock from neighbors. The rest purchased their parent stock from multiplication centers such as Wambugu multiplication station in Nyeri County, Ngong Veterinary Farm and farmers who had specialized in improved rabbit breeding. The low proportion of farmers acquiring their stock from multiplication stations is attributed to high prices of the improved rabbit breeds. Farmers purchased local breeds at an average price of Ksh. 400 while improved breeds sold at Ksh. 1,250 (Figure 4).

It was evident from household survey and focus group discussions that rabbit keeping was practiced by almost all members of the household. This was different from the past where activities related to rabbit keeping were associated with young boys (Serem et al 2013). This implies that the enterprise is gaining importance among all people especially adults as a source of income and food. All rabbit farmers interviewed indicated that they consume rabbits because of their high nutritional benefits. As observed by Mensah et al (2014), most of the meat sold in developing countries such as Kenya have been found to have high levels of fat, high cholesterol and relatively low protein content. This is the reason most people are attracted to “safe” meat such as that from rabbit.

Majority (85%) of the farmers fed their rabbits on locally available materials such as wild grasses (weeds, legumes), indigenous plants and herbs, cultivated forage (hay), farm crop residue (such as potato vines), agricultural by-products and kitchen waste. These materials were reported to be easily accessible by farmers from their own farms. Some of the farmers reported to be mixing locally available feeds with the ones bought from feed shops. This was done to reduce the cost of solely depending on manufactured feeds which were viewed as expensive by majority of the farmers surveyed. One kilogram of rabbit pellets feed from the shops was sold at an average of Ksh. 53.3.

Figure 4. The rabbit value chain in Nakuru, Kenya
Source: Author’s survey 2017

NB: Numbers highlighted in red are prices in Kenya shillings per kilogram of rabbit traded; Numbers
highlighted in blue are proportions of number of rabbits traded at each stage of the value chain

The main reason for rearing rabbits was for commercial purposes (Figure 5). This finding agrees with that of Mailu et al (2013) who found that more than a half of farmers studied kept rabbits on a commercial basis. However, due to poor market linkages and, 5% of the farmers interviewed ended up consuming their rabbits.

Figure 5. Reason for rabbit farming
Source: Author’s survey 2017

Small-scale farmers sold rabbit at an average price of Ksh. 350, 246, 250 and 287 per kg to wholesalers, rural brokers rural retailers and rural consumers respectively (Figure 4). Farmers from Kiambu County received higher prices due to the establishment of a processor in the area by their county government. The plant is managed by the Rabbit Association of Kenya (RABAK) which offers high prices and guaranteed rabbit market to farmers. This has created stiff competition between retailers who buy rabbits from farmers and RABAK which has compelled other traders in the area to increase their prices.

Household surveys revealed that more than three quarters of farmers sold their rabbits at farm gate. This may be attributed to lack of enough information on market of rabbit and its products in some parts of the study areas. Some farmers slaughtered rabbits upon request by consumers which sometimes led to increase in prices to cater for costs incurred during slaughtering and other processing activities.

Farmers reported during the FGD that they mainly use the manure from the rabbits on their kitchen gardens. In addition, rabbit urine was used by farmers to supplement inorganic fertilizers.


An examination of Figure 4 revealed that a farmer was paid an average of Ksh. 350 per kg of rabbit by a wholesaler. Farmers from Kiambu County were the only ones who benefited from selling rabbits to a wholesaler (RABAK). The wholesaler in the area offered better prices than retailers and brokers. Payments to farmers were made on the same day through mobile money transfer services called M-pesa. Wholesalers carried out value addition on rabbits by processing them into meat and sausages which were then sold to retail outlets in nearby towns such as Thika and Nairobi. Each kilogram of meat was sold at an average price of Ksh. 400. Other by-products such as skin were not processed due to lack of tannery in the area. Skin was either fed to dogs or disposed.


Retailing is another important component of the rabbit value chain in the three study areas. It is through them that most of the rabbits got to the final actors i.e. consumers. Majority (72%) of the retailers were found in the markets which are scattered around the major towns and purchased the rabbits either directly from producers or from wholesalers at wholesale prices. The most common main retailers in the three counties were Naivas and Tuskys supermarkets and restaurants (food outlets). The costs that were incurred by retailers included transportation, market fees, county government levies and storage. Two groups of retailers were evident; urban and rural retailers. Rural retailers sold rabbit to rural consumers at an average price of Ksh. 385 (Figures 4). Some of the rural retailers sold their rabbits to urban retailers at an average price Ksh. 388. Focus group discussions revealed that urban retailers were preferred by rural retailers because of the ready market especially with the food outlets. Urban retailers added value to the rabbits through packaging, roasting or even frying which made them to sell to consumers (Ksh. 600) at a higher price as compared to other market traders.


Urban consumers paid higher unit prices (average of Ksh. 600 per kg) as compared to their rural counterparts (average of Ksh. 385 per kg). For example, in Nakuru County, urban consumers paid an average of Ksh. 615 per kg of rabbit meat (Figure 4). In Kiambu and Nyeri counties, urban consumers bought the same meat at Kshs. 580 and 555 per kg respectively. The difference in prices may be attributed to the value addition done on rabbit meat before it reaches urban consumers. In addition, transportation costs from small-scale farmers to urban areas might have played a role in increasing the rabbit prices.

Service providers in the rabbit value chain

The flow of rabbits and rabbit products from farmers to final consumers is made possible by transporters. The movement of rabbits and different rabbit products was made by producers themselves, brokers, or retailers from producers or intermediate markets to the end market in different ways. Farmers who participated in FGDs pointed out that walking was the main mode of transport. This finding agrees with that of Bett et al (2012) who found that walking was the major form of transport for those who were handling improved chicken in Kenya. Some of the rabbit actors used motorbikes as a form of transport. Transporters who used motorbikes popularly called bodaboda were hired by most of the actors along the value chain. Some actors had their own motorcycles which they used for transportation. Retailers who collected rabbits from different areas used pick-up vehicles. It was noted that there were no specialized rabbit meat transporters in the study areas.

Government institutions

In all the three study areas, the respective county governments had shown interest of promoting rabbit farming through farmer training, agricultural shows and construction of rabbit processing plants. The Government of Kenya in collaboration with the World Bank set up the Kenya Agricultural Productivity Programme (KAPP) which was instrumental in helping rabbit farmers access the right production practices especially in Nakuru and Nyeri counties

There were two government regulations that controlled transportation of rabbits from one place to another. Key informant interviews with officials from county governments revealed that transporters of value-added rabbits were expected to obtain a certificate of transport (COT) which was supposed to be provided by the county or sub-county government veterinary officer. Further, all transporters of live rabbits were expected by law to have a transport/movement permit. In Nyeri and Nakuru counties, such government regulations were largely unenforced and hence not implemented by most actors in such areas. In Kiambu, payment of Ksh. 50 and Ksh. 100 per consignment was supposed to be made for one to obtain movement permit and a certificate of transport respectively. From the interviews with the transporters, it was evident that the fees were burdens to them which ended up increasing their costs.

Rabbit feed suppliers

To enhance accessibility and affordability of rabbit feed, the suppliers of the commodity sold it in small amounts. The feed manufacturers/millers e.gJubilee Feeds, Logorn Feeds International and Pwani Feeds in Kiambu County and Wonder Feeds Limited in Nakuru delivered feed in lorries to the agro-vet stores who then sold directly to rabbit farmers. The main types of manufactured rabbit feeds included bran, maize germ and concentrates.

Extension services

In the last six months, only a third of rabbit farmers in the study areas reported to have been visited by extension officers. Most of the extension officers were from NGOs (such as CARITAS International) and ministry of agriculture and livestock from the respective county governments. The extension services were offered for free to encourage more farmers into the rabbit enterprise. The rest reported to have never contacted or been visited by extension officer. They therefore used their own knowledge in rabbit production while others got advice from neighbors, friends and relatives. This implies that rabbit veterinary services in the study area had not picked up well.


Only Kiambu County had a modern well-equipped rabbit slaughterhouse. Located in Makongeni area of Thika Sub-County, the slaughterhouse was constructed by the Kiambu County Government managed by RABAK. In Nyeri County, a rabbit slaughter-house was still under construction during the study period while Nakuru County had none. Interviews with farmers showed that 64 percent of rabbit farmers sold live rabbits in all the study areas. The rest slaughtered their rabbits at home and dumped waste in open pits. The transport costs to the slaughterhouses were reported to be incurred by the rabbit producers themselves. In Kiambu County, payments to farmers for rabbit delivery to the slaughter house was Kshs. 450 per kg of meat (dead weight) or Kshs. 225 per kg of life weight. Interviews with the managers of the slaughterhouse showed that payments to farmers were reported done the same day via m-pesa (mobile money service provider).

Challenges and opportunities faced by rabbit farmers in the three counties

Figure 6 presents the main challenges faced by rabbit producers in the study areas. More than half of the respondents cited diseases and parasites as the main production challenge. This finding agrees with Serem et al (2013) who found that rabbit producers in Kenya complained of diseases as a major challenge of rabbit production. It could be attributed to lack of trained rabbit service providers such as veterinary and extension officers.

Figure 6. Proportion of rabbit producers who reported rabbit production challenges
Source: Author’s survey, 2017

Majority (66%) of the farmers cited lack of adequate quality breeding stock as a major challenge. For those that were able to access quality breeding stock, they complained of high prices attached to them. This finding tally with Oseni et al (2008) where it was observed that the majority of rabbit farmers in Nigeria lacked access to quality genetic stocks. Existence of expensive manufactured feeds was a serious bottleneck with about 60 percent of rabbit farmers encountering it.

Further, 44 percent of farmers reported that lack of specific drugs for rabbits was one of the major challenges they faced. In-depth discussions with farmers during FGD revealed that they used drugs meant for other species of animals such as chicken to treat rabbits. It was reported that lack of specific drugs meant for rabbits led to increased rabbit mortality. Lack of extension services was a major issue in the study areas. However, discussions with officers from Nakuru County ministry of livestock revealed plans of addressing the problem through farmer-to-farmer learning. Farmers also complained of being offered low prices. Low market prices may be attributed to the mushrooming of rabbit brokers in the study areas who ended up gaining high profits at the expense of the rabbit farmers.



The work reported in this study was carried out as part of the activities under the research project ‘Strategies to Promote the Rabbit Value Chain in Kenya’ funded by National Commission for Science and Technology (NaCOSTI). This work was supported by funding from the African Economic Research Consortium (AERC) and the National Commission for Science and Technology (NaCOSTI).


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Received 22 March 2019; Accepted 3 April 2019; Published 1 May 2019

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