The rise of Moses Mutua from a guard to the owner of the largest rabbit farm−Rabbit Republic− is akin to that of the mythical phoenix that obtains a new life by rising from the ashes of its predecessor.
Rabbit Republic is an agribusiness farm that rears rabbit and processes its meat. In Kenya it has a network of over 1000 farmers who are sub-contracted for a model farming. Farmers are trained, given rabbit breeds, medication and food. The contract binds them to sell rabbits to the company.
Meeting him at his Kenyan office in Ruai town In the outskirts of Nairobi, Mutua says that at his firm in Kamulwa he bred 30,000 rabbits and was controlling close to 50,000 breeding rabbits across Kenya. “At my peak I produced close to 6 tonnes of rabbit meat per month before transferring the breeding farm to Tanzania in December 2015. The Tanzanian unit currently produces 500kgs of rabbit meat every month.”
Although they require very little space, water and food compared to other livestock, few farmers keep rabbits. Yet the demand for its meat is increasing and its lucrative, says the farmer.
Data form Kenya’s Export Promotion Council (EPC) shows that the demand for rabbit meat has not been met globally.
The demand is super high with countries such as China, France, Australia and Germany demanding thousands of tonnes daily yet there is a shortage of supply.
Mr. Mutua also notes that East Africa alone is a big market that remains underserved with locals having a grown appetite for rabbit. “Nakumatt supermarket who are reseller for instance need an average of 9 tonnes per month.”
The company supplies to a chain of hotels mostly 5 stars with Canivore Restaurant being the biggest consumer.
“I was born, raised and schooled in Machakos County. After high school, I wanted to be a soldier in the army but my dreams would later fizzle because of the technicalities involved and ended up looking for casual jobs in Nairobi,” says Mutua.
Moving from one job to another, he tried to make ends meet. He recalls cooking chapati by the roadside, a daily routine that started at 3am to 10 am before leaving for other manual jobs.
Those travails later landed him a job as a guard with Wells Fargo between 2002 and 2005 with a salary of Kshs 4700 a month. He was posted to several work stations with every move presenting a different opportunity.
For instance as a guard at a motor firm in Industrial Area in Nairobi, he would often get access to online sales and marketing courses meant for the employees. He never paid for the exams because he had no money and was only interested in gaining the knowledge.
“I also guard a bank at night in Westlands and got tips from party goers who would park their vehicles at the front yard asking us to look after them. It is from this that I was able to save funds and buy my own taxi. We could get as much as Kshs 10000 per night from tips alone. I set a record at Wells Fargo as the only guard who came to work in his own vehicle.”
With the car, he doubled up as a taxi driver during the day.
Incidentally he got his wife while he was still a guard. “I used to guard their home in Muthaiga and we eloped against the wishes of her parents. This earned me a transfer but we later made up with their family and we are now in good terms. I am even the chairman of their investment committee,” he quips.
As a taxi driver, he once chauffeured a client to Kericho that kept him away from work for a week. The client turned out to be a pastor and was forced to drive him along for those 7 days preaching the gospel.
That’s how he lost his job as a guard for absconding work without notice.
In 2007 he lost all his investments to the 2007 PEV.
Back to nothing, like the mythical phoenix, he had to rise from the ashes.
From Kariobangi, he relocated to Kawangware where he opened a roadside kiosk with his wife selling groceries.
A back and forth moment looking for veggies to sell got him into a contract with a company selling ornamental fish.
I got a job with the firm as a salesman where I sold and serviced aquariums for a commission, and any money exceeding the set price. “I used to make a lot of bucks. I once sold an aquarium priced at Kshs 80,000 for Kshs 200,000. This angered my employee because I was making more money than the company. I got fired.”
So he started his own firm, Aqua Farm Consultants, selling ornamental fish. He later expanded into selling fingerlings and supplying fish products. During one of his trips supplying fingerlings to farmers, he met a woman farming rabbits in Ongata Rongai.
After much questioning he sought further information about rabbit farming. For close to two years he researched on the internet and traversed the country meeting farmers, researchers and scientist. His goal was to identify the challenges in the industry and find solutions.
“There was a huge market for rabbit meat yet there wasn’t any commercialisation of rabbit farming. Sadly, it was considered a past time activity for teenage boys,” he says.
He eventually bought six rabbits and kept them at a friend’s backyard in Ngumo− that formed the onset of Rabbit Republic.
With the increase in lifestyle related diseases, people are now embracing healthy lifestyles. Mutua says that rabbit meat stands out as the best healthy choice for meat lovers because it is cholesterol-free with easy digestible protein.
Rabbit meat can also be processed into different food recipes such as sausages, burgers, kebabs, samosas, chipolata and minced meat among others.
On the other hand, rabbit skin is tough and mostly used to make garments, belts, bags and fishing baits.
Despite the immense opportunities in the sub-sector, a handful of threats have stifled its growth.
He says rabbit vaccines and medication are costly−have not been subsidized by the government. Getting them locally is a challenge and one is forced to import them at exorbitant costs.
When he started, Mutua says banks were hesitant to fund rabbit farmers and extension officers and vets had little knowledge about the animal. However, with his intermediation and success, perceptions are now changing. More research is being conducted and farmers are increasingly adopting rabbit keeping, even a few of his employees opted out to start their own.
The company is now partnering with universities and organisations working with women and youth to train more people on how to farm rabbits. “I am setting the largest rabbit farm in Africa on 6 hectares of land in Tanzania and I am looking to breed over 50000 rabbits.”
Towards this end, Mutua advises the youth to be ambitious and work hard for success. “I don’t have an excellent professional resume but I did not let that limit my potential. One shouldn’t complain about lack of opportunities because it all starts with the mind.”
First appeared here