If You Give A Man A Rabbit

Abe Fisher, Farmer-to-Farmer Volunteer – Haiti

Who doesn’t enjoy a cookie and a tall glass of milk? While in the U.S. a cold glass of milk and a delicious cookie is commonplace, in Haiti, this delicious treat is regarded differently. Bon Bon Te cookies are a finite tradition given to pregnant women and hungry children across Haiti. While most U.S cookies contain chocolate and lots of flour and sugar, Bon Bon Te cookies are made from water, cooking oil, salt, sugar, and clay. The clay is found in the deep pits and caves that make up Haiti's Central Plateau. The clay is shipped to urban areas like Port-au-Prince where they are sifted and strained to remove small rocks, branches, or other “foreign objects.” After being processed, the clay is used to make Bon Bon Te. Despite providing impoverished Haitians with a cheap source of nutrients, many of these "cookies" are laden with parasites, which for many Haitians can lead to medical complications. Clearly, Haitians still need a sustainable food solution that can provide much needed protein in their diets, and empower the local economy. In the case of Haiti, rabbits might just hold the answer.

Back in the 1800s, rabbit meat could be found on dinner plates, general stores, local restaurants, and many other locations. Over time, though, American consumers turned to beef, chicken, fish, and pork as the main source of protein. Fast forward to today when rabbit meat can be found at local farmers’ markets, higher-end restaurants, and select grocery stores. Yes, people in the United States and across the developing world still eat rabbit meat. Rabbit meat is high in protein, low in fat, and requires little income and space to raise. After all, rabbits are one of the quickest mammals to reproduce offspring. The gestation period for rabbits is between 28 to 32 days and they are able to become pregnant even when still nursing newborn bunnies. The idea of year-round rabbit breeding and a quick gestation period is ideal to help solve the Haitian chronic food crisis. This is where I come in.

My name is Abe Fisher and I live with my wife and three children (soon-to-be four, after our Haitian adoption is finalized) in Juniata County, Pennsylvania. While I am a career network engineer and tech guru, I am also a hobby rabbit farmer. In 2014, I traveled to Haiti for the first time on a trip through Juniper Community Missions. While I was there, I instantly fell in love with the culture, the landscapes, and most importantly, the people. After returning home, I knew this wouldn’t be my one and only experience and I felt this trip was the beginning of something new. Soon after my return, I began thinking about how I could make a difference in the lives of Haitians and how I could help solve food insecurity that plagues so many Haitians. I was confident that I didn’t want to just fix the problem by feeding them all. Rather, I wanted to empower Haitians, so they could take ownership of their long-term food security solution.

While I was in Haiti, I met a man that worked at the local mission where our team stayed. He was very kind and spoke excellent English making it easy for us to communicate. I shared with him that I raised rabbits at my home and he was instantly intrigued. After returning home, we kept in contact and I told my new friend that I would be happy to sponsor him if he would like to try raising rabbits in Haiti. After securing some supplies and finding rabbits available for purchase, he founded what today is the Hares for Haiti project. Now, Hares for Haiti is one of many protein projects sponsored by Juniper Community Missions. Since its inception in 2015, 159 rabbit farmers have been trained and rabbit meat is starting to become more common than ever before. Not only does raising rabbit provide a means of protein for their daily diets, it also generates higher incomes for Haitian families. I want to tell you about my most recent Hares for Haiti trip and the amazing experiences I was privileged to encounter while I was there.

I said goodbye to my family and boarded the flight on March 2 to embark on my two-week journey, sponsored by USAID’s Farmer-to-Farmer program, implemented by partnership Partners of the Americas. I knew the journey ahead would be both informative and somewhat exhausting, but I was up for the challenge. Shortly after arriving, I headed to LaGonave, a small island off the central coast of Haiti, with ten rabbits in tow. LaGonave is one of the most desolate parts of Haiti and I was able to make contact with a missionary named Brian Tucker, founder of Community of Hope Haiti. While on the island, I was able to observe their living conditions and train 17 farmers on rabbit production. The training day went off without any problems, and I thought I was going to be heading back to the mainland the next day to continue my work. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had something else in mind and due to high winds; we were stranded on the island for two additional nights. While the storm winds did not help with my plans, I did have the time to work alongside Brian to build a fantastic hutch (cage) for their rabbits, so my time was not wasted!​

When I finally arrived back to the mainland, I had a few short hours to rest before it was off to my next project to visit my current rabbit farmers and purchase a few of their rabbits for some upcoming trainings. All in all, we were able to squeeze in visits to 24 different farmers. After these trainings we traveled with more than 50 rabbits to Christianville, where the training would take place the following day. The amazing thing was that all of the rabbits that we bought for the training were purchased from existing Hares for Haiti farmers.

9:00AM came quickly, and up to one hour before, I was still putting the finishing touches on cages. Nonetheless, we were ready at 9:00am to begin training. The second training was a success. We even had a participant from Jeremie, a city Hurricane Matthew directly hit just five months prior, who had hopes of replicating the rabbit breeding program there. What a gift to know that I am helping people improve their lives without even being able to travel there first hand!

Just a day later, I hopped on a small plane and headed to Cap-Haitien in the far north of Haiti. For me, this was by far the most informational part of the trip as I was able to visit with Benito, who is a rabbit-breeding expert. Benito works closely with Farmer-to-Farmer and Partners of the Americas the the rabbit project as well as other agricultural projects such as beekeeping, coffee production, goat raising, reforestation, cocoa production, and so much more. During my visit with Benito, I was able to gain valuable knowledge on rabbit nutrition, best marketing practices as well as how to deliver the instructional information in a more engaging and effective manner. Benito also took me to the largest chicken processing plant in Haiti where he plans to process rabbits as well. Additionally, we made rounds to visit Benito’s rabbit farmers, which helped me to better understand successes and challenges of rabbit farming from a new vantage point.

This trip was truly something I will never forget and I would be remiss if I didn’t send my sincere thanks to Partners of the Americas, USAID, and Juniper Community Missions for entrusting me with such an incredible opportunity. The next time you sit down with a cold glass of milk and your scrumptious cookie, think about Haiti. Better yet, don’t just think about it. Reach out to Juniper Community Missions (http://www.juniperhaiti.org) and find out how you too can get involved in making the world a better place.

The original post of this story was published on the blog managed by Partners of the Americas’ Agriculture & Food Security Program: http://farmertofarmer.blogspot.com/2017/03/if-you-give-man-rabbit.html