Rabbits, a diet and business alternative
By Elena Prieto
Rabbit meat is not included in Guatemalan typical dishes. However, perhaps in a few years they will permeate the menu of local festivities in the Chorti´ area. Growing rabbits has already be-come a more than regular activity in several communities of the municipality of Camotán, Chiquimula. Verónica and her family are a clear example of it.
Verónica Pérez is a 33-year old divorced mother of five children. A year ago, she installed a module in the front porch of her simple home where she grows rabbits. “A hammock hung here before but we have changed this part of the house since the rabbits arrived.” The change has not been only at the practical level. Now I have an additional responsibility, “I do my housework, as usual, and then I clean the modules. It was easy and quick in the beginning but it takes a long while every day now that I have many more rabbits. But I like to keep their modules clean” she affirms, feeling proud of the care she provides the new porch tenants.
Verónica lives in El Rodeo, a community of 820 residents located 18 kilometres off the urban area of the municipality of Camotán, accessible through a dirt road. The whole population is into agriculture with traditional crops like maize, staples, coffee and plantain. Weak household economies survive with the sale of produce surpluses, which in 2000 and 2001 were practically non-existent. Adding to the international coffee crisis, the draught affecting the zone prevented the sale of their products. Moreover, low production affected the population’s nutritional levels to the point that it was necessary to declare nutritional emergency in the region.
Non-governmental organisations, national and local institutions and international organisations, among them the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), coordinated efforts to face the emer-gency in the short, medium and long term. Some working lines have included the introduction of new agricultural, forestry and livestock practices as an alternative to food production and re-sources.
UNICEF, jointly with FAO (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation), has promoted rabbit growing. “First, I was trained in the construction of modules. It took me a little while to build mine but when it was ready they brought me three rabbits, one male and two female. We had a brood shortly after but now I can’t remember how many more since then.” Rabbits feed on plants grown in the area and sometimes, admits Carlos (Verónica’s older son), “I feed them apples and vegetables that I find around the house.”
In Veronica’s daily diet, using rabbit meat is not customary “we were taught to cook it in different ways with ingredients that we already have but I honestly prefer to eat my little chicken, although some of my neighbours really enjoy rabbit meat. I only feed the rabbits and sell them when they are older.”
Changing nutritional habits unquestionably takes time. Finding rabbit dishes in household pots as a common practice will be a gradual process but the financial contribution involved in the sale of these big-ear animals goes a long way to enhance Veronica’s pocket: “With the last brood I bought school materials for my four children. The little one remains at home with me but the rabbits will pay for his school materials next year.” And she adds, “we sell less maize now because we sell the rabbits first, and so we have more maize for ourselves.”
The nutritional situation of the population of the area continues to be highly fragile, as Carlos Arriola, a doctor from the Bethania Dispensary explains. In 2004, close to one hundred patients were admitted here with protein-caloric malnutrition. He stresses that “practically the only food in the daily diet of these communities is the ‘tortilla’ (maize pancake); therefore, the nutritional levels of the population, especially children, are extremely limited.” However, projects like rabbit growing have no doubt brought hope to Verónica, her family and her neighbours.