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Minilivestock: an expanding enterprise

The potential for minilivestock to contribute to household security is much greater than is often appreciated by many specialists and government authorities. It is especially true for developing countries where people, who live in rural regions or who live in urban areas but maintain rural ways and tastes, give particular importance to the nutritional and the cultural value of their local wildlife foods. In the past, no particular effort was made to manage wildlife populations used for food or their habitats. But, with rapidly increasing populations, and better prices offered on urban markets, the situation has changed and there is now an incentive for rural people to spend time and effort in trying to raise certain species under controlled conditions in captivity.

Virtually all species of wild animals are eaten as a food resource somewhere in the developing world. Armadillo makes a tasty mealThose that may be taboo in one region are considered a delicacy in another. A particularly diverse range of species (antelopes to monkeys, rodents, reptiles, and a wide variety of invertebrates, including snails and insects) have been recorded as food resources in Africa. Bushmeat is eaten as fresh meat, smoked, salted or dried (biltong) although smoking is the most widespread form of preservation and smoked bushmeat is available in urban markets in most African countries. Amazonian fauna has also been an important source of food historically and many species, including birds, monkeys, reptiles, manatee, deer and a variety of rodents (paca, capybara, peccaries), are still eaten today.

Other invertebrate species are equally valuable for their commercial products as for their nutritional value. Bee products, including honey and wax, and collectable insects (butterflies and iridescent beetles) can be collected from the wild but are increasingly becoming backyard activities. Wild silk production, compared to domestic silk production, is also a promising new activity for rural people in Africa. Vermiculture, or the cultivation of earthworms, provides valuable compost for improving poor arable soils and the worms can also be used as a protein source for feeding to livestock (poultry or pigs).

However, despite their enormous potential, minilivestock activities should not be considered a panacea to food security in developing countries. Raising minilivestock can present a variety of challenges which have to be considered if the venture is to be successful. Scientific understanding of minilivestock production systems is increasing but extension and veterinary support may not be comprehensive, if advisors themselves are not familiar with the activity. Some animals may be aggressive (wild bees and some species of rodent) and therefore have to be handled with care. And rodents, in particular, can be a source of transmissible diseases e.g. brucellosis, toxoplasmosis, rabies and leptospirosis.

Some species also represent a hazard if allowed to escape. Many minilivestock animals are valued for their adaptability and prolificacy (rodents, rabbits, and snails) but these characteristics also make these species serious pests if introduced into new environments. Achatina fulica, a snail indigenous to East Africa, is well known for the destruction it has caused in South-East Asia after its introduction as a biocontrol for local snails. More recently, A.fulica has also been identified in West Africa following its uncontrolled introduction and escape from gardens in Côte d'Ivoire and Benin. The coypu is also considered a pest in northern Europe and eastern England after its escape from fur farms. Likewise, other rodents, such as the giant rat and grasscutter, could potentially become a serious nuisance if allowed to escape into new areas. It is therefore advised only to rear them in areas where they already exist.

But, in spite of these considerations, minilivestock offer much potential for subsistence production:

  • Most require little space, capital investment or labour and can be easily managed by women and children in rural, urban or peri-urban areas;
  • Many can be fed on household, garden or crop waste and/or locally available feedstuffs;
  • Several species also produce by-products, including fur and skins, which can be sold to generate extra income.

In addition, by providing those people who traditionally depend on species from the wild the means to rear them in captivity (e.g. green iguana), over-exploitation can be avoided and existing populations and their habitats' conserved.

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