Being expelled from school for lack of school fees was the spark that inspired 14 year old Laetitia Mukungu to start a rabbit cooperative movement, a move that has metamorphosed into a behemoth now supplying to biggest hotels and keeping girls in school.
When her mother, the sole breadwinner of the family, lost her job Laetitia had no choice but to drop school due to lack of school fees. She went to live with her grandmother in the village where she became a tutor in Math, Science and English. Seeing the plight of school girls struggling with fees as their parents were not able, she decided to do something about it.
She borrowed Sh50,000 from the School’s head teacher and started the Women’s Rabbit Association, a cooperative that farms rabbits, helps support local women and pays for their childrens’ school uniforms and stationery. The rabbits are sold to Kenyan restaurants. Each woman who works on the rabbit farm gets a salary and free farming supplies such as seeds.
The business began as an income-generating project to support the kids in the school. Laetitia learned that rabbit meat was in high demand but supply was low. She also learned that rabbits were the most productive of domestic livestock. They have a short gestation period of 30 days and are produce 42 babies per year. Rabbits are cheap, easy to feed and take up little space, making them suitable for most small-scale rural farmers.
Rabbits are also quiet and can be raised in any environment, even in a school. They rarely get sick and are appropriate for rural women who have no money to spend on vet bills. Not to mention rabbit meat is high in protein and low in fat and cholesterol.
She knew that rabbit breeding was a perfect rural enterprise, since it “is not complicated and requires no professional skills, which makes it suitable for rural women who are largely uneducated.”
In 2012, Laetitia was one of 12 finalists in the Anzisha Prize, a youth entrepreneurship competition which opened doors for her. She has since been invited to speak at international conferences and she’s received more funding for her project.
Laetitia used some of the revenue from the business to launch a micro-finance bank to help village women start their own small businesses such as selling fish and fruit. “I lend the women from 5,000 shillings to 10,000 and they repay within a year, with…
interest,” she said.
Now 17, Laetitia is in her final year at the African Leadership Academy in South Africa. While she is at school, her mother and some local women managers are looking after the rabbit farm. They have a vested interest in keeping the project going, she said. Local producers cannot keep up with the demand for rabbit meat, Laetitia said.
To boost production, she is planning to offer the cooperative women three months of training so they can start their own micro rabbit farms. They would be expected to sell their animals back to the Women’s Rabbit Association. This will boost her profits and further empower the women, she said.
Laetitia hopes to begin her university education this year. “I really have a passion for agriculture, and would love to study agricultural engineering,” she said. “I have already applied and hope to get into the EARTH University in Costa Rica. My plan is to study there and come back to Africa.”
The Anzisha Prize is for African entrepreneurs age 15 to 22 who have developed and implemented innovative businesses or solutions that have a positive impact on their communities.