In the 1980s, Cherkasy was one of the leading producers of rabbit meat in Ukraine. In the 90s, however, production declined as cheap chicken from the United States and Europe replaced rabbit meat in the Ukrainian diet. Today, rabbit meat is seeing a resurgence in popularity and production in the region is now picking up with help from an EU-funded project.
Rabbit meat is considered a healthy and nutritious food. Doctors recommend that infants eat rabbit as their first meat as it allows the body to get used to the digestion of meat products. Rabbit meat is also recommended for adolescents, nursing mothers and the elderly. Along with the increasing demand for healthy food in general, demand for rabbit meat has also begun to grow.
The design of many mini-farms allows for rabbits to be kept year round in the fresh air. Rabbits do not require special facilities and can be easily accommodated in private yards and farms. These production advantages encouraged the administration of Cherkasy region to work toward restoring the industry.
Since this kind of business development initiative requires funding beyond what the state was able to contribute, the regional administration looked elsewhere for financial investment. Local officials decided to participate in the grant competition for the EU’s Support to Ukraine’s Regional Development Policy programme.
“Having analysed the various possible directions for the regions’ development, we prepared a concept note on the project focused on the theme of cooperation and submitted it to the competition,” says project coordinator Tamila Lepyoshkina. The officials, with the help of community leaders of the regional rabbit breeders society, amateur graziers, and entrepreneurs compiled the grant application.
In January 2015, Cherkasy won the grant and signed a contract with the European Commission. The project’s total budget is €617 137,30 Out of this, the European Union provided €491 925,30 , while the Cherkasy oblast has allocated €123212.
According to Lepyoshkina, the project’s main goal is to reduce unemployment in rural areas. “To support newly established cooperatives we created a regional educational and practical centres of development and multipurpose cooperatives,” she says.
Centres will breed pedigree rabbits and transfer them to the cooperatives. These Centres will also give legal, veterinary, technical, financial, and managerial assistance to farmers.
Workshops about the technical aspects of breeding rabbits, and management and accounting training for members of the cooperatives have already started. Gregory, the chairman of the “Real Rabbit” cooperative from the Heronymivka village has already completed his training. His four-member cooperative has been operating for three months already.
Gregory says that it was easy to create a cooperative. “Thanks to the support of the regional council and the EU program it was pretty easy. The fact is that our people have had experience with breeding rabbits and I didn’t have to convince anyone to start this business. In addition, we participated in seminars and training sessions at Uman State University. The teachers gave sugar-coated information about business plans, veterinary practice, and the technology of growing rabbits,” the farmer says.
The project is intended to create 50 cooperatives in the region. In addition to the breeding of rabbits, they will also cultivate and dry fruits and berries. Within the framework of project, more than 20 cooperatives have already been provided with facilities.
“This autumn three cooperatives will receive total 6,000 currant seedlings and newly-established cooperatives will receive mini-farms,” says Lepyoshkina. The farmers plant trees on their plots, and dryers are placed in areas designated by the village Council.
It is expected that the cooperatives will create up to 300 jobs. These are not only jobs for tradespeople, but also accountants, sales managers, marketers, veterinarians, technologists, food industry workers, and others.
The “Real Rabbit” cooperative only recently started operating, but Gregory already has new plans to tackle the current problems. For example, one of the challenges that rabbit meat producers have faced is finding a market for the products.
Despite the gradual increase in demand for rabbit meat, it is sometimes difficult to find buyers; selling wholesale is unprofitable and retail customers buy meat infrequently. Currently, consumers are principally parents buying the meat for their children.
“We have no culture of consumption of rabbit meat anymore; we eat it only on occasion. So I have to convince people to stop poisoning themselves with broiler chickens and start eating real meat,” complained one manufacturer.
In order to expand the distribution network, Gregory is planning to create a programme of support for regional development cooperatives. “We suggested creating our own network of distributors for fear that farmers may have trouble figuring out what to do with their products,” he says.
Gregory also plans to build a small feed plant with the help of the regional administration. “We have already talked about this, because up to 70-80% of our costs is food supply. If we organise the manufacturing of feed, we can reduce these costs,” he says.
Project “Creating of a centre for the development of multipurpose cooperatives” operates under the EU-funded project “Support to Ukraine’s Regional Development Policy” (SURDP). The overall objective of the project is to contribute to social, economic and territorial cohesion of the country. Implementation of the project will strengthen the capacity of Ukrainian authorities and other stakeholders to develop and implement effective regional development policies.