With prices of pork going up, rabbit farming for meat gains ground in Region 12

LAKE SEBU, South Cotabato (MindaNews / 20 February) — Rabbit meat, anyone?

Amid the soaring prices of  pork,  rabbit farming is gaining ground in Soccsksargen (Region 12)  with advocates pushing to make rabbit meat a basic food item on the table of Filipino households.

Virginia Compañero, president of the newly-formed Soccsksargen Rabbit Raisers Association, said there are two kinds of rabbits — one for pets and the other for meat consumption.

“Rabbit meat is healthier than pork and chicken meat. It has higher protein and lower fat and bad cholesterol contents,” she told MindaNews on Thursday at her farm in Barangay Lamlahak here.

Rabbit meat has higher protein and lower fat and bad cholesterol contents compared to pork and chicken, says Virginia Compañero, president of the Soccsksargen Rabbit Raisers Association. (MindaNews photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO)

“The goal of dedicated rabbit raisers in the region is to produce an upgraded rabbit breed (for meat consumption) that can be slaughtered in three to four months at a live weight of about three kilograms,” she added.

Currently, the rabbits raised in the region for meat consumption are known as the Local New Zealand and the California White varieties.

These stock varieties could reach a weight of two kilos five to six months from birth, and when dressed would produce meat between 1.2 to 1.3 kg, she said.

Due to the still relatively small production,  rabbit meat is being sold in the region, on an order basis, at  450 pesos per kilo, more pricey than premium pork belly or liempo  which has increased in the past several weeks to nearly 300 pesos per kilo.

Rabbits multiply fast, giving birth five times a year, says Virginia Compañero, president of the Soccsksargen Rabbit Raisers Association. (MindaNews photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO)

In December, the price of liempo, the most expensive part of pork meat, was only about PhP 200 per kg but gradually ballooned to nearly P300 per kg in the talipapa (road side meat vendors) and public markets due to stiff supply in the region.

Last month in Metro Manila, pork prices skyrocketed to almost P400 per kilo for the premium liempo, eventually prompting President Rodrigo Duterte to issue Executive Order 124 imposing a price ceiling on liempo at P300 per kg there.

Arlan Mangelen, Department of Agriculture – Region 12 director, said the onslaught of the African Swine Fever (ASF) affected the supply of hogs that triggered the price increase of pork in the region.

In the wake of the soaring pork prices, Mangelen issued Special Order 06 Series of 2021 on January 28, pegging the price of liempo at P192 and kasim at P188, way below the prevailing prices in the markets nowadays.

On February 17, he issued another special order suggesting the price of live hogs at P144 per kg for the entire region.

But as of Saturday, February 20, the suggested retail price of DA-12 for pork was not followed, with premium cuts being sold by roadside meat shops here by as much as P250 per kg, MindaNews learned.

Myrna Habacon, director of the National Meat Inspection Service – Region 12, admitted that swine supply in the region has become tighter, triggering the gradual increase in prices of pork cuts in the markets.

“Due to the presence of ASF in some parts of the country, commercial hog raisers in Region 12, particularly in South Cotabato and General Santos City, engaged in conservative swine production for fear the highly contagious disease will infect their farms,” she said in a phone interview.

In Region 12, the ASF has been detected in the provinces of North Cotabato and Sarangani, according to DA-12.

Despite the soaring prices of pork due to the limited supply in Region 12, Soccsksargen shipped at least 5,205 heads of live hogs as of February 19 to augment pork meat supplies in Metro Manila, data from the DA central office showed.

Rabbit meat as alternative to pork

Compañero stressed that the best way to bring down the price of rabbit meat, one that will be comparable to pork price, is to produce more mature stocks at a shorter time, as this would basically mean lower production cost for raisers.

Virginia Compañero and her husband Rodel are growing rabbit for meat purposes since 2019 at their farm in Barangay Lamlahak, Lake Sebu, South Cotabato in this photo taken on 18 February 2021. (MindaNews photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO)

Even Secretary William Dar had pushed rabbit meat as an alternative to pork, following last year’s onslaught of ASF that devastated the hog industry and affected mostly the livelihood of small-scale backyard hog growers. In Mindanao, the ASF was first detected in January 2020 in Davao Occidental.

In Soccsksargen, there are an estimated 3,000 dedicated rabbit raisers. The region straddles the provinces of South Cotabato, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani and the cities of General Santos, Koronadal, Kidapawan and Tacurong,

Compañero noted that even small farmers can afford rabbit farming due to its low production cost, as these animals consume a small amount of commercial feed pellets (50 grams per day per rabbit) and unlimited quantity of foliage that needs to contain lower water content such as napier grass, para grass, star grass, carabao grass and rensoni, among others.

A retired government agricultural worker, she stressed that the animal also multiplies fast, with the doe (female rabbit) giving birth five times a year using the 70-day birthing cycle — 30 days for the pregnancy period, 15 days for nursing the kits (baby rabbits), 15 days for weaning them and 10 days to condition the doe for mating again.

Rabbit farming entails low production cost as they can thrive mostly on leaves that are abundant in rural farms. (MindaNews photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO)

Compañero said if the price of rabbit meat becomes more affordable like pork, more Filipinos will patronize rabbit meat and more farmers would be earning significant extra income.

Changing the mindset of Filipinos to become rabbit meat eaters, she stressed, is a big challenge that can be addressed with proper education.

Rabbit meat was introduced in the country by US Peace Corps volunteers after World War 2 to address food shortage then, an industry research showed.

“It’s high time to introduce rabbit meat for a healthier lifestyle. Nowadays, we have much morbidity due to our food intakes that are high in fat and bad cholesterol contents,” she said. “Our goal is to make rabbit meat as an alternative to pork.”

To popularize rabbit farming for meat consumption among the T’boli natives here, Compañero and her husband Rodel have given three pairs of rabbits to three families so far, with the condition that they will each return a pair that the couple will also give for free to other families who want to raise rabbits, applying the same terms.

At present, the Compañero couple has produced hundreds of rabbits, which they sold starting from P400 each, since embarking on the venture in 2019 with only a buck and two does.

Compañero said rabbit meat has the potential to penetrate the halal market, noting that some Muslims in the region have been growing and consuming the animal.

A rabbit, which has a lifespan of 10 years,  can be roasted (lechon) or cooked the same as Filipino goat delicacies such as kaldereta, pinapaitan, adobo, kilawin and sinampalukan, or with curry powder.

Changing the mindset of Filipinos to consume rabbit meat is a big challenge for industry players but can be addressed by proper education, says Virginia Compañero, president of the Soccsksargen Rabbit Raisers Association. (MindaNews photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO)

Allan de Lima, a triathlon athlete based in General Santos City, first tasted rabbit meat in the 1980s, from his father who raised rabbits at their home then.

“Rabbit is food for me. As an athlete, eating rabbit meat helps build up my muscles because of its rich protein content,” he told MindaNews.

De Lima, who is back to raising rabbits, describes the rabbit meat production as a “promising industry.”

He said the big challenge for the industry is achieving a sufficient number of dedicated rabbit breeders for meat production, and “not necessarily the perceived reluctance and taboo to slaughter and eat a cute animal.”

To make rabbit meat popular among Filipinos, de Lima said the promotion — done parallel with the efforts to establish stable stocks — must first start at home with family members, friends and then reaching out to the community.

“Many Filipinos eat rats, snakes and even frogs. Why not try rabbits, which are clean and have healthy meat?” de Lima asked.

Both de Lima and Compañero stressed the need for government’s intervention to help make rabbit meat production popular and a profitable venture. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)