Texas A&M-Kingsville Regents Professor spends time in Haiti helping people feed themselves
KINGSVILLE - September 21, 2010
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The average income of a family in Haiti is just over $1,700 per year, many people are still living in tent cities outside Port-au-Prince after their homes were destroyed in a devastating earthquake that struck the country in January and residents are moving their families to the rural areas because they think they are safer.
Dr. Steven Lukefahr, Regents Professor of animal science at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, was witness to the remaining devastation and other reminders of the earthquake when he visited the island country this summer as part of the USAID Partners of the Americas Farmer to Farmer program.
As part of the Heifer International’s program and other organizations, Lukefahr has been to many underdeveloped countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America introducing rural families to the benefits and ease of raising rabbits, however, even he was astonished by the living conditions in Haiti.
“This is the poorest country I have been in,” Lukefahr said. In fact, Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. “The people live in extremely poor conditions. They show signs of malnutrition. Some of the children were naked because they have no clothing.
“We ate and slept in the same small building behind a church where we were doing our daily training for the first three days of my 12-day visit. There was only one small bed in the room and the university students that I was training kindly gave that to me,” he said.
The family rabbit projects in Haiti were established in the early 1990s, but after the earthquake more funding became available to enable the program to be expanded by at least 500 families this year.
Rabbits are easy to raise, Lukefahr said. Their hutches can be built from local materials with very little money, they don’t take up much space and rabbits can eat grasses, kitchen scraps and garden wastes. Even though many Haitians have moved out of the cities where there was more damage from the earthquake, many rural families are lead by women as their husbands remain in the city to work.
The benefit of raising rabbits in countries like Haiti is two-fold. “Ten females and one male can produce around 200 offspring per year. That’s enough to provide high protein meat for the family and have some left over to sell at the local market to increase their income.”
Lukefahr said they didn’t import rabbits to Haiti when the projects were started. They use a local crossbreed that is adaptable to the humid temperatures. He assisted several farmers directly on their farms in several villages and trained a group of 63 students and professionals so they can now train others to start their own rabbit projects.
He said the American presence in the relief efforts in Haiti is still present throughout the country. Lukefahr said he was on the flight from Miami with a group of missionaries and that there are still American doctors in the country treating the sick. He even saw remnants of donations in discarded bags that once contained MREs, or Meals Ready to Eat, used by the United States military.
Lukefahr said the presence of the World Rabbit Science Association (WRSA) is known throughout Haiti as they made a significant donation to the relief efforts. The WRSA is a professional group of some 200 rabbit scientists from around the world. Lukefahr served as president of the WRSA from 2004-2008 and currently holds the office of General Secretary for Developing Countries for the WRSA.
The internationally-known rabbit expert recently published a book, Developing Sustainable Rabbit Projects, published by Heifer International and is sold by Amazon Books. The book was written as a series of lesson plans for professionals who train inhabitants of lesser developed countries on how to start small backyard rabbit operations that produce inexpensive meat, improve small farms and increase family income. Ten sections cover topics including production systems and economics, genetics and selection, housing and equipment, feeds and feeding, reproduction, disease control and marketing rabbits. It is currently being translated into Spanish and French.
Since 1994, Texas A&M-Kingsville has maintained an active rabbit research program. Just this week, 23 quality breeding rabbits were sold to a group from Jamaica to improve rabbit production for farmers in this country. Last summer, Lukefahr involved seven undergraduate students in an applied research project that involved feeding leaves from sweet potato plants to growing rabbits. Sweet potato leaves can be grown by families in gardens and the leaves are a rich source of protein. Their research showed that rabbits can grow well without feeding them an expensive commercial feed. Also, the rabbit’s manure makes excellent fertilizer for the garden. Next week, Lukefahr will be presenting these results at the Fourth Rabbit Congress of the Americas event in Cordoba, Argentina.
About Dr. Steven Lukefahr
Dr. Steven Lukefahr worked with Heifer International in Cameroon from 1983-1985 developing grassroots level meat rabbit programs for rural farmers in the northwest province. He has been at Texas A&M-Kingsville since 1994 starting as associate professor and receiving a promotion to full professor in 1996. He was named Regents Professor by The Texas A&M University System in 2004. Prior to that he was associate professor of animal breeding and genetics and coordinator of the International Small Livestock Research Center at Alabama A&M University.
He earned his bachelor’s degree in animal science from Texas A&I University, and his master’s and doctoral degrees in animal breeding and genetics from Oregon State University.
While at Texas A&M-Kingsville, Lukefahr has received the Distinguished Teacher and Researcher Awards from the Javelina Alumni Association, the Senior Teaching Award from the Dick and Mary Lewis Kleberg College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Human Sciences and the Chancellor’s Teaching Excellence Award. He also presented the Faculty Lecture in 2003.
He is a member of the American Society of Animal Science, the American Branch of the WRSA and the European Association for Animal Production. He has published over 150 articles in national and international journals and papers in conference proceedings and has been an invited speaker at numerous conferences around the world. He is also co-author of another book, Rabbit Production (Pearson Prentice Hall Publishers).
About the Farmer to Farmer Program
The Farmer to Farmer Program is supported by the U.S. Congress and the Agency for International Development (USAID). Partners in the program provide technical assistance to local agricultural producers, producer organizations and agribusinesses in Haiti, Guyana and Jamaica. U.S. agricultural volunteers spend two to three weeks working with their counterparts in the Caribbean on a specific technical assignment to address local needs.
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