Inspired by diabetes and healthy eating
Around this time, Chapagain’s mother was facing diabetes and kidney problems, which inspired him to begin learning about healthy eating, and he came across the nutritious qualities of rabbit meat. Across Nepal, rapid increases in heart disease, diabetes, and asthma have led to a growing consciousness about naturally produced foods and increased market demand for more healthy food producers. This trend convinced Chapagain that it was the perfect time to develop Nepal’s first large commercial farm to sell rabbit meat.
Many do not know that rabbit meat is one of the healthiest meats available. Rabbit meat has the lowest caloric value, least amount of fat, and the highest percentage of protein when compared to pork, beef, and chicken. For farmers, rabbits are also the most productive livestock. Compared to cows, rabbits consume one-sixth the amount of food and water for every pound of meat produced.
Next step: business incubation
In 2012, Chapagain brought his start-up idea to the business incubation program led by Nepal’s Department of Cottage and Small Industry, and the Himalayan Rabbit Farm was born. In addition to breeding rabbits, the farm provides training and technical support to other rabbit farmers. The company generates revenue by selling rabbit meat and rabbit breeds, while also providing technical services, including rabbit farm management, market development, and market linkages.
In 2016, Chapagain joined a pilot program of infoDev’s Nepal Agribusiness Innovation Center and has since dramatically increased the number of distribution partners and farmers the company serves. It has doubled the number of hotel restaurant clients from six to 12 and increased distribution from one to five meat shops. In addition, Himalayan Rabbit sells rabbit breeds to 18 commercial farmers, provides services to 110 village farmers and has partnered with two laboratories. The company’s annual revenue has reached NPR 2,061,000 (USD 20,200), and it currently employs five staff members.
A leading rabbit farmer briefs the women group from another district on starting their own rabbit farms. Photo Credit: The Himalayan Rabbit Farm
How to build a market for rabbit meat
Himalayan Rabbit is the first farm in Nepal commercializing rabbit meat into the market. Thus, in order to help build the industry from the ground up, the company is collaborating closely with suppliers and retailers, developing market linkages, and marketing the health benefits of rabbit meat as it introduces it into local markets. Himalayan Rabbit first supplies rabbits, trains farmers to feed and breed more rabbits, and then returns to buy back the produced meat.
To increase market demand, Himalayan Rabbit will soon begin promoting rabbit meat in Nepal’s five major cities as the most nutritious meat known to mankind. In the capital city, Kathmandu, Chapagain hopes to multiply the current client base 10 times over.
Before joining infoDev’s pilot program, Chapagain lacked marketing skills and hadn’t developed an accurate meat production schedule. The training enabled Chapagain to develop a business model canvas, improve rabbit meat marketing, and design a systematic approach to schedule their rabbit production.
An ambitious vision for the future
Over the next five years, Himalayan Rabbit has set several ambitious goals to increase both the supply and demand for rabbit meat across Nepal. It aims to build the capacity of farmers from different districts of Nepal by providing mentoring and training to enable their rabbit production skills. The best-performing farmers will be selected to work as local trainers and help further expand rabbit farming in their areas. This initiative will help to transfer the skills and expand rabbit production across the country and introduce rabbit meat on a mass scale. In total, Himalayan Rabbit aims to empower 1,000 small-scale farmers through sustainable rabbit farming.
Women farmers in training enjoy a meal prepared by the rabbit producers of the host village. Photo Credit: The Himalayan Rabbit Farm
Himalayan Rabbit’s suppliers are mostly women. For the future, the company is focusing on women-led farmers supplying rabbits from the villages. Generating income to village women is the target of the company. Chapagain has quickly realized the transformative impact that his company can have on communities.
“More than 35% of children under 5 years old in Nepal are malnourished, in which protein-energy malnutrition is the most significant. The impact of earthquakes and other recurring natural disasters is exacerbating the issue,” Chapagain said.
After the 2015 earthquake devastated several communities near Kathmandu, Chapagain partnered with local Rotary clubs and the Nepal Agriculture Research Council to train rabbit farmers and help them rebuild their lives.
“We lost our house. Three of our neighbors died. We worried about how to make a way for our daily living. Then, we received four days of training and were supported with rabbits and materials for hutch construction. Now, we are already seeing encouraging results,” stated Raj Kumar Tamang, one of the farmers supported by Himalayan Farm.
Building on the success and lessons learned from the Himalayan Rabbit Farm and other firms, the Nepal Agribusiness Innovation Center will support over 150 high-growth agro-processing companies over the next 18 months. The center, launched in April 2017, was made possible with support from the Nepal’s Ministry of Agricultural Development-World Bank Group Project for Agriculture Commercialization and Trade, and technical assistance provided by infoDev with funding from the governments of Finland, Norway, and Sweden.