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Making a Living Out of Conservation

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Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

The farmers of the Neleshi Grasscutter and Farmers Association (NAGRAFA) consider themselves not only farmers and businesswomen and men, but also conservationists. Grasscutters, or cane rats, are found throughout Western Africa and, as their name suggests, they live in grasslands. But many poor farmers in Ghana use slash and burn methods on grasslands to provide short term nutrients to the soil, as well to drive out grasscutters and sell their meat, which is considered a delicacy. To help preserve the grasslands and help other farmers increase their incomes, NAGRAFA offers free trainings to farmers and youth about how to raise, slaughter, and process grasscuttter and rabbit meat.

The group is made up of about 40 active members--both men and women--who have been working together to find better ways to raise grasscutters and rabbits on a small-scale. Their biggest challenges, says Farmer Brown (which is the only name he gave us), the leader of the group is finding inexpensive ways of housing and feeding their animals, finding better packaging for their products, and publicizing the health and nutritional qualities of their products.

NAGRAFA is also reaching out to youth to engage them in farming. Because the rabbits and grasscutters are cute, it's easy to get children and teenagers interested in them, according to Ekow Martin, one of the members of NAGRAFA. He's training 5 to 6 youth in his community about how to raise the animals--and earn money from the sale of the meat. And, Mary Edjah, another NASGRAFA farmer says that "we need more hands" to help raise rabbits and grasscutters. She and other members of the group are helping train 6 orphans about how to raise and care for the animals.

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Ms. Edjah also says that raising grasscutters and rabbits helps "bring the family together" and "keeps the children at home." Raising these animals, says Mr. Martin, "changes everything." The family is happy, he says, because they're able to supplement their income, as well as improve the family's nutrition.

And like other livestock such as cattle and goats, grasscutters and rabbits are like walking credit cards, giving families the opportunity to sell them to pay for school fees or medicine, or eat them. Ms. Edjah says "that in times of need, women know they can slaughter the rabbits."

For more about NAGRAFA, check out the videos below.

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