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Last Updated: Monday, 3 April 2006, 21:44 GMT 22:44 UK
Bushmeat boom benefits Ghana's farmers
By Orla Ryan
BBC News, Ghana

Teye Ocansey is pushing grass through the wire front of one of a stack of cages to the hungry, twitching animal inside.

Teye Ocansey
Grasscutter farming is becoming a big business opportunity

The cages contain grasscutters - bush animals which are such a delicacy in Ghana that they are now being farmed to meet demand.

Mr Ocansey started to farm grasscutters as a hobby 10 years ago. Since then, he has seen his business grow to generate a healthy profit from the 260 grasscutters he keeps in a small shed in the Accra suburb of Awoshie.

"It is a delicacy meat and people like it more than other meats," says Mr Ocansey, a member of a grasscutter farmers' co-operative.

"The cholesterol is very low. There is no religious barrier. Everybody likes grasscutter, the Muslims don't like pork but they like grasscutter."

Crazy for grasscutter

One of the perks of the job, Mr Ocansey says, is that there is always grasscutter meat in his fridge.

The lean meat can be eaten with fufu or pounded yam, served in okra soup or made into a meat pie.

For the true gourmet, the grass fermenting in the creature's intestines can be extracted to make soup.

People feel easy to buy them here rather than from a poacher
Grasscutter farmer Cephas Ababio

The farming may be new, but Ghanaians' taste for grasscutter is hallowed by tradition.

But the old ways of hunting the animals - by starting bushfires to scare them, and other kinds of bushmeat, out of their natural habitat - had prompted environmentalist concern.

"Ghanaians are crazy for bushmeat, they will hunt for bushmeat as long as there is some," says Rita Weidinger, who works for German development agency GTZ.

"So we asked ourselves: if we have this market demand, how can we satisfy it without destroying the environment?

"Grasscutter hunting is a lucrative business, so we need to provide alternatives or hunters will continue to exhaust grasscutters."

Profitable business

For Ms Weidinger, that alternative is to encourage people to farm grasscutters.

As a commercial enterprise grasscutter farming remains the preserve of no more than a handful of people. But with thousands keeping them as a hobby, GTZ is working with the Ministry of Agriculture to train farmers how to rear the animals for the pot.

Ms Weidinger argues that each animal only requires about 10 minutes of care a day, and adds that a female grasscutter - which produces about seven babies a year - generates an average profit per year of 30 euros.

Grasscutter in a cage
Ghanaians are breeding their own bushmeat, instead of hunting them

The farmers themselves argue that their business is a more attractive proposition to customers than simply buying on the street.

"People feel easy to buy them here rather than from a poacher," grasscutter farmer Cephas Ababio says. "I sold some four grasscutters and I was able to meet school fees."

Overseas market

The next step could be to look further afield.

On the one hand, Ghana's grasscutter farmers are preparing to rear breeding stock for neighbouring countries. On the other, the huge diaspora of Ghanaians overseas longing for a taste of home could also prove lucrative.

But with local demand for grasscutters booming, most farmers are unlikely to need to seek markets far from home, Ms Weidinger believes.

"It will be a niche market for a few farmers who have requirements to meet it," she says.

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