Rat Farming- An opportunity for food security

Rat Farming- An opportunity for food security

India has brought an Act on Food Security which basically aims at providing food and nutritional security based on human life cycle approach by ensuring access to adequate amount of quality food at affordable prices and also to provide supplementary nutrition to children from 6 months to 14 years through Integrated Child Development Scheme and mid day meal scheme. It makes provision for providing 5 kg of food grains at a subsidized rate. Rice is to be provided at the rate of Rs 3 per Kg, wheat at Rs 2per Kg and coarse grains at Rs 1 per Kg. It also makes provision of a free meal in terms of well defined security of calorie and protein. The bill is a land mark step towards fight against hunger and malnutrition. But do we have enough preparation for meeting the requirement of foodgrains and protein. In this article we shall examine the role of Rat farming in providing conservation of foodgrains and supplying cheaper source of protein.

Rats are a great companion of human beings. We can seldom find a place of human habitation where rats can not be found. Rat meat has been a popular food in a large section of society since time immemorial. But people have hunted rats for eating. The rats living in houses are generally not eaten. On the other hand, a large section of people have considered rats as pests and have tried to find ways of killing them. There is a common misconception that only communities like Musahars (the name itself indicates that they are rat hunters, rat eaters, or rat food eaters as they procure food grains stored by rats). This is not true. Rat meat is a popular food among non-vegetarian farmers and farm labours of many communities. When the crops of paddy or wheat are harvested and the field is empty Musahars go for hunting of rats and also try to dig out the food stored by them. The rats so caught are roasted, cooked and served to all those who want to eat.

I got an opportunity to watch the hunting process in a small hamlet near Naubatpur about 25 kms away from Patna. I was told that hunting of rats is done in three ways:

  • Flooding (When water is poured in the holes so that the rats try to come out of the holes where they are caught with indigenous equipments or even by hand)
  • Smoking (When smokes are sent in the holes so that the rats get out of hole and picked up at the opening of the hole)
  • Trapping (When certain items such as onion covers are put near the holes and when rats are attracted towards it they are trapped into a trap)

Rats prepare a very elaborate structure of holes with intricate interlinked architecture. Normally they dig three parallel holes- one for themselves, one for the storage for food grains and one for movement so that they can move out in moments of crisis. Often snakes move into the holes prepared by the rats. So they take due precaution from before to meet this crisis. Musahars are quite apt in finding out whether any hole has rats or snakes. They can read their presence merely by looking at the imprints of their movement near the opening of the holes.

The method of cooking rats was also hygienic. The rat was hunted from the field. It was roasted to remove the hair. Then pieces were chopped off and cooked like goat meat. It was served with rice. My wife Mridula and I also tasted the meat. We found the meat to be quite tasty.

When an organized hunting is done in open fields, sometimes a feast is organized in the field itself. Rat meat is also sold in local villages. The demand is so high that when a person hunts rats and brings back to village it is often purchased by someone midway. The rat meat cuisine is also serves in way side hotels of Mokama, about eighty kilometers away from Patna in the name of Patal Bageri. Sometimes it is sold in rural hats also. Sale price of rat meat is Rs 100 to 110 per Kg.

The process of hunting rats was quite cumbersome. Seeing the enthusiasm of the community a simple idea comes to mind as to what can be done to make a steady supply of rat meat to the community. But before something could be thought of, it is important to learn whether rat meat is worth eating. Is it good for health? I looked for the food values of different common meat and eggs. Here is the result

Nutrition value

Field rats










Protein (gm)








Fat (gm)
























Carbohydrates (gm)








































   (Source: Nutritive value of Common foods: National Institute of Nutrition)

 Clearly rats have high protein and compete very well with chicken. In fact, with low fat level it is good for old and weak.

We also tried to explore whether it is harmful to eat rat meat. There is some misconception that rats and rat meat cause some disease. In fact, there does not seem to be any evidence that it is harmful for humans to eat rat meat. It is as good or bad as any other meat. The precautions that are needed in eating other non-vegetarian foods is required to be taken in the case of rat meat also. It is surprising that people, who oppose rat meat forget that despite knowing that avian flu or bird flu in chicken having possibility of transmission to humans chicken has not been removed from food list. Rat meat has not been proscribed from human consumption.

Rat meat is popular food in many communities in different parts of India. In North Eastern Indian states hunted wild  rats sold are sold in wayside shops.

International Experience

Using rats as a food source draws either disgust or amusement from many, but eating rat meat has a long history. Rat meat is a popular cuisine in many countries. Bush meat is a popular form of meat in African countries such as Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon. It is estimated that about half of the meat markets in some parts of  Ghana is bush meat. Bush meat is basically Cane rat meat.

In an important study Yaa Ntiamoa-Baidu writes in Wildlife and food security in Africa, FAO CONSERVATION GUIDE

“A number of studies on the nutritional value of wild animal meat indicate that bushmeat is comparable if not better than domestic meat. The general trend is that the meat of most wild animal species tends to be low in fat, while equal or better than beef, mutton, chicken or pork in protein content and much higher in vitamin content. Apart from the large game species, nutritional studies on wild animals have been carried out for “non-conventional” species such as rodents, insects and snails. Nutritional studies of rodents used as food in the Zambezian woodland gave average protein content of 24% (fresh weight); fat content of 2.816.8% and ash consent of % for twelve species (Malaise and Parent 1982). Based on these results, the authors concluded that the nutritive value of rodents places them on the same level as beef and chicken.”

In Thailand, fast-food vendors are selling rat food -poached, fried, grilled or baked. They claim they are tastier than other meats and are healthy because they come from rice fields.

In Cambodia, spicy rat dishes are quite popular as it is cheaper than other forms of meats.  A kilogram of rat meat now sells for around 5,000 riel (US $1.22) as opposed to beef which goes for 20,000 riel (US $4.88) a kilo. Children hunt rats from farms and forests and make money by selling it after preserving some for family. It is also sent to Vietnam from Combodia as there is a demand for the meat there. Cambodians have found it easier to catch rats as the rodents flee flooding in the Mekong Delta. It is estimated that about a tone of live rats are exported to Vietnam from Combodia every day.

In some  countries steps have also been taken to develop rat farms to properly manage their production and steady supply. Rats are being actively farmed and processed for food in countries as culturally diverse as Nigeria and Cambodia. Researches in developing techniques for breeding cane rats in captivity is continuing at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria since 1973. It has been so successful, commercial large-scale rat farming is growing in Southern Nigeria. There cane rats are seen as a high-profit, low-stress animal to farm. It is considered as more assuring than the poultry business which can bring fortune in a day, but could also bring unexpected crisis leading to serious financial crisis.


A cane rat breeding station was set up in Benin in the mid-1980s – the Benin-Germany Cane Rat Breeding Project -with support from the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ). The station aims to develop cane rat breeding techniques for the production of meat, and to propagate a domesticated breed. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization has produced guidelines and a paper on the proper care and raising of cane rats for food production. It is based on experiments conducted in the 1980s in Benin.

See Website: http://www.fao.org/DOCREP/U5700T/u5700T0k.htm

Books on cooking cane rats has also been produced. The Congo Cook Book, packed with cane rat recipes is given on the website: http://www.congocookbook.com/other_recipes/cane_rat.html

Breeding of cane rats for meat production

The meat of the cane rat (Thryonomys swinderianus), a wild rodent, is greatly appreciated in western and central Africa. A cane rat breeding station was set up in Benin in the mid-1980s – the Benin-Germany Cane Rat Breeding Project -with support from the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ). The station aimed at developing cane rat breeding techniques for the production of meat, and to propagate a domesticated breed.

(See http://www.fao.org/docrep/U5700T/u5700T0k.htm#TopOfPage)

Advantages of rat farming

Rats are seen as a big nuisance in farms and food-grain stores. In the farm the rats store upto  Kilograms of grains in their holes. In fact, Musahars dig these holes and collect the food grains. In rural Bihar the farmers take half the share of the food grains recovered from the rat holes. The foodgrain destroyed by rats is estimated to range from 4-5% to 30% of the total foodgrains.  If rat meat is promoted, it would not only be a cheap source of protein it would also help in conserving the food grains destroyed by them. In fact, then it would not be seen as pests but would become pets.

In the season of flowering of bamboo which takes place at the periodicity of about half a century, the population of rats suddenly becomes very high. This is because the bamboo seeds are quite rich in protein and cause high fertility in rats. After the flowering season is over these rats turn to fields and cause severe damage to crops so much so that it brings famine to the area. This famine called Mautam (meaning sorrow) is so severe that in 2006, Army had to be called to contain the crisis. In fact, the government gives cash incentives to kill rats in some north eastern states.

Social Impact

Promotion of rat meat can have great impact on social life. Food habits are one of the main factors untouchability. If rat meat is accepted as common food, it would help in bridging the gaps between different communities and would pave way for removal of untouchability.  Promotion for tolerance for food can be a major step for social inclusion. As rat meat is comparatively cheaper source of protein, it can become an important part of their food can create impact on their nutrition status.

It would be interesting to note that the literacy rate of Musahar community in Bihar has moved from 2.1% in 1961 to 9% in 2001. Why is it so? Despite giving equal treatment this community has not developed. It has been seen that the communities, whose skills have been commercialized have also developed, mutually, on other socio-economic parameters. Even among Scheduled castes communities such as Chamar, who are engaged in dirty works like dealing in animal skins have developed at a much faster rate as the leather related works and industries developed in the country. On the other hand Musahar community which has the traditional skill of rat hunting has not improved as their skill has not been recognized and commercialized. If we commercialize rat farming, it would definitely have great impact on the poverty alleviation particularly of the communities which are engaged in rat hunting.

Literacy rate of SC in Bihar (Census of India 2001)

CASTE P_lit_rate M_lit_rate F_lit_rate
All SCs
























Chamar etc.
















Dom etc.




Dusadh etc.












Hari etc.
























Pan etc.
















Generic Castes etc.




                                                                         Source: Census of India, 2001

Popularisation of rat meat would also have impact on social cohesion. One of the main reason for the evil practice in society is non acceptance of diverse food eaten by different community. Tolerance for different types of foods would pave the way for a more cohesive and democratic society.

Rat farming and Food Crisis

There is another angle to it also. The global food crisis continues to fuel food price inflation and send many into hunger and despair. Growing prices has particularly affected poor in terms of their access to protein. Around the world, solutions are being sought to the urgent need for more and cheaper food. Right now there are 862 million undernourished people around the world (FAO), and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for food production to increase 50 percent by 2030 just to meet rising demand.

ICMR has recommended 60g of protein per day for an adult of 60 kg body weight. This requirement of protein can be met by vegetative sources (a mixture of pulses) or by animal products like milk, meat, fish or eggs. Pulses are one of the major source of protein. Per capita domestic production of pulses in India has dropped from 63g in 1951 to 36g in 2008. This has led to a steep increase in their price also. This has made it totally out of reach from poor people.

This situation demands effective utilization of diverse protein resources including meat. In addition, animal proteins have high biological value and well balanced amino acid composition as compared to vegetative sources. Average man needs a minimum of 125 g meat or meat equivalent food per day to replace the protein lost through catabolic processes and to maintain the nitrogen balance of the body. It has been reported that diets containing on an average less than 15g animal protein per day would lead to protein malnutrition. Thus a target of at least 20g animal protein/day (world average 24.88g) would be reasonable for Indians where the diets are predominantly vegetarian, and a mixture of proteins from cereals and pulses are consumed along with animal protein in the form of milk, meat, fish and eggs.

It has also been seen that, with the growth in economy, people have more money to spend on food and eventually, the consumption of meat products go up. In India, with the growth of middle class, the consumption of meat has also gone up.  Assuming that 4g animal protein/person/day comes from meat sources, then for the 70% non-vegetarian population of the country, the requirement of meat is about 6 million tonnes as compared to the total current meat production estimate of about 4.8 million tonnes (2011-12) .

Therefore, measures should be taken for increasing the meat production to reduce the gap between requirement and availability. If the reduction of gap is not possible through traditional sources of meat then non-conventional sources of meat may be explored for the purpose.

Broaden food spectrum

As the availability of protein from present popular sources decline, we have to explore new sources. There is a need to broaden the food spectrum to include both vegetarian and  non-vegetarian food so as to meet this food or more specifically protein crisis. As the price of poultry, cows, sheep, pigs and seafood rises, rodents are coming more and more into the picture, in particular, rats. For example, in Africa, farming the cane rat is seen as a better option than chickens, because they are easier to care for.

Rats are also eaten by dogs, cats; snakes and other animals. These animals are also kept as pets. There appears to be a great potential for marketing of rat meat for pet cats and dogs. If these requirements are met from rat meat, it would have impact on the meat availability and prices for human consumption.

Right to grow food

Every society or community has liking for certain types of food. This is determined by their socio economic settings and cultural traditions. It is important to respect such likings. It is also equally important to note that it is the right of every community or group to work for sustained supply of food liked by them. In fact, right to food has an inherent component of right to grow food.

Rat Meat idea by world community

Let us also see how rat meat idea has been received by the world community. DENNIS T. AVERY, Senior fellow for the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC and Director for the Center  for Global Food Issues writes in his column

“The best non-science solution I’ve heard is from Vijoy(sis) Prakash, Secretary of Welfare in India’s Bihar state. Prakash says we should eat rats. Then the rats won’t eat the stored grain, and the people will get more high-quality protein. He is promoting rat meat in the villages—and talking with hotels about rat meat on their menus. It’s at least more realistic than expecting humans to become vegetarian.”

American Chronicle has recognized the news of rat recipes of Bihar as one of the best five lessons learnt in the month of August 2008.

The news regarding rat farming has been published in thousands of newspapers and radio and TV reports including BBC News & VOA and the idea is being debated on several blogs and magazines.

Some people oppose rat meat popularization on the ground that it would lead Musahars back to the age of rat hunting and they would never grow. This is a total misconception. Firstly, rat farming is different from rat hunting. It is organized farming just like poultry, piggery and other farming practices related to different animals. Secondly, it is not related to any community.  At hunting stage one community may specialize in hunting. But as the technology related to rat farming stabilizes more and more people of all community would join in.

It could be known from Musahar community that the meat of wild rats is very delicious, palatable and acceptable too. Unavailability of meat resources in present-day market may lead to acceptance of the rat meat like chicken among the meat connoisseurs and this food habit of Musahar Community will be brought to the main stream.

Thus, there is a good case to work on production and management of wild rats in the laboratory condition, thereafter upscale its large scale production at the farmers level.

Way ahead   

Rat meat production is in hunting phase. People hunt rats from the field and then eat. Rats are not reared. So they are not available with regularity. They are available when they are hunted. Further, people have to work extremely hard to get the rat meat. Rat hunting is quite time consuming and may not be that rewarding. Therefore, the method of rearing rats has to be developed so that rats become available on regular basis. Only after the rearing process has stabilized we can go for marketing of rat meat. Rat is reared as pets and also for laboratory purposes. So there should not be much difficulty in developing a proper method of rearing rats on large scale for production of meat. Some of the rats such as cane rats are of 3-4 Kgs. In fact, gradually the hybrid rats may also be developed.

We are in a very difficult phase of human development. As per FAOs assessment food production has to be doubled by 2040. In 20th century the food production was enhanced by introduction of developed technology, use of hybrid seeds, fertilizers, developed system of irrigation and proper land reforms. But this time we have reached at the threshold of technological advancement and much cannot be expected on that front. Hence, we have to put more emphasis on food conservation and diversification. In this context rat farming stands to be given due consideration for being developed as an additional source of food for it would not only add to the present food repertory but would also help in conserving the existing food reserve. It can be an important step towards providing food security.

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