Livestock Research for Rural Development 24 (11) 2012 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

Current situation of cavy production in Cameroon: Challenges and opportunities

A T Niba, F Meutchieye, D Fon*, A G Laisin**, H Taboh**, H Njakoi**, A Bela Tomo***, B L Maass****, A Djikeng***** and Y Manjeli*

Department of Animal Production, Faculty of Agronomy and Agricultural Sciences, University of Dschang, Cameroon,
* Department of Agricultural Economics, Faculty of Agronomy and Agricultural Sciences, University of Dschang, Cameroon.
** Heifer International Cameroon, P.O. Box 467, Bamenda Northwest Region, Cameroon.
*** Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries and Animal Industries (MINEPIA), PAPENOC, Yaoundé, Cameroon.
**** International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Nairobi, Kenya
***** Biosciences eastern and central Africa – International Livestock Research Institute Hub (BecA-ILRI Hub), Kenya.


The review looks at the current status of cavy production in Cameroon and situates cavy culture in the area of their contribution to meat production, income generation for cavy farmers in Cameroon. It also reviews research and development of cavy culture in Cameroon. It indicates that cavy culture is an affordable way out of malnutrition for rural women and their families as well as a sustainable way of income generation for these women. It highlights the work done by the various promotion agencies like Heifer international Cameroon and the programme for the support of non-conventional livestock production (PAPENOC) in capacity building for cavy farmers as well as providing material support (improved animals, forage resources and veterinary care). It stresses the need for capacity building for cavy farmers as a means of promoting cavy culture in Cameroon and summarises present and past student/staff research on cavies at the Faculty of Agronomy and Agricultural Sciences, University of Dschang in collaboration with the Institut de Recherches Zootechniques et Vétérinaires (presently Institute of Research for Agricultural Development-IRAD). Development needs are also summarised in the challenges for research on breeding and selection, nutrition, animal health and management practices. 

The paper indicates that cavy production in Cameroon will have a face lift as a new project on ‘Harnessing husbandry of domestic cavy for alternative and rapid access to food and income in Cameroon and the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo’ has been implemented since early 2012. It concludes that this project offers a golden opportunity to move the agenda for domestic cavy production forward in Cameroon.

Key words: cavies, non-conventional animal production


Food security is a real challenge in most parts of Africa. This is particularly so when quantity and quality of animal-source food are concerned. All over Africa, the supply remains very low compared to an increasing demand due to growing populations, rising urbanization as well as, partly, increasing wealth. Regular supply of small quantities of animal protein, on the other hand, has been shown to be crucial for adequate physical and cognitive development of children (Grillenberger et al 2006; Neumann et al 2007).  

In the southern forest areas of Cameroon, bushmeat contributes for a significant amount to meat supply. This threatens the sustainability of fragile ecosystems and encourages poaching that provides substantial amounts of animal proteins in large towns (Edderai and Dame 2006; Eniang et al 2008).  

Mini-livestock production is suitable for backyard family production and can contribute to increased food security. Extension and research are still lacking in many countries (including Cameroon) due to a traditional emphasis on large domestic animals and a lack of related training and education (Hardouin et al 2003). Domestic cavies commonly known as guinea pigs are more widely filling a niche in livestock production than generally known. They require little capital or labour, provide an inexpensive readily available, palatable meat, have no odour and are suitable for keeping indoors (NRC 1991; Lammers et al 2009). Furthermore their low cost and small size make them accessible to many landless peasants (Tchoumboue et al 2001). More important is their ability to serve as excellent sources of supplementary income for smallholder farmers (Manjeli et al 1998).  

In the western highlands of Cameroon, Manjeli et al (1998) reported offtake of cavies due to slaughtering for home consumption, cash sales and as gifts to be 40%, 55% and 5%, respectively. This relatively high commercial offtake suggests that cavy production is an important income generating activity for smallholder farmers especially in the western highlands of Cameroon (WHC). The increasing population density in Cameroon especially in the WHC (250-300 inhabitants/km2 with peaks of up to 1000 inhabitants/km2) is partly responsible for the continuous decline in the size of smallholder farm holdings (Teguia et al 1997; Manu et al 2004). This has rekindled farmer interest in non-conventional small animal species notably mini-livestock such as cavies, African giant rats, or quails, which all require little space and feed resources for their production (Ngou Ngoupayou et al 1994). Since 2001, the Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries and Animal Industries in Cameroon has targeted short cycle livestock species in order to meet the national demand for animal proteins (PAPENOC 2010). The goal was to double national production by 2015 through a diversification policy. So to enhance poverty alleviation strategies in rural zones, mini-livestock has received greater attention and concern through the creation of a dedicated program.  

While in South America, production of domestic cavies has partly been improved with modern production practices (NRC 1991; Rico-Numbela and Rivas-Valencia 2003), in Cameroon they are produced mainly in the traditional way, where the animals scavenge on the floor for their daily needs (Manjeli et al 1998). Most feed is provided from kitchen wastes and farm residues, and, sometimes, supplemented with vegetables and forages. This traditional cavy farming appears to be a secondary household activity undertaken by smallholder farmers basically women (Ngou Ngoupayou et al 1994). The extensive production system that shows no defined management practices, integrates very well in the agricultural systems (production of small livestock, food crops and forages) of the western highlands and southern forest zones of Cameroon. However, their productivity remains low due to many constraints such as predation, uncontrolled breeding, inbreeding, poor feeding, negative selection and lack of veterinary care (Ngou Ngoupayou et al 1994).  

Improvement and promotion of cavy production in Cameroon requires awareness of animal scientists, development authorities, on-station research to improve raising conditions as well as enhancing knowledge on production practices for the farmers themselves. This will contribute to harness the contribution of cavy culture as an alternative and rapid access to income and food for resource-poor farmers in Cameroon.  

In this paper, we review the significance of cavy culture in Cameroon, promotional activities in the recent past, and its current status in the country, including challenges and opportunities.  

The Cameroonian livestock sub sector 

Agriculture has traditionally been an important activity to the Cameroonian economy. In 2008, the agricultural sector contributed about 20.3% to the country’s GDP and employed over 70% of Cameroon’s population (MINEFI 2008). MINEPIA (Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries and Animal Industries) has recently been promoting mini-livestock keeping through the Public Investment Budget (PIB) financing in 2007 of the specialized livestock support project. By consolidating experiences acquired through snail, cane rat, frog, quail, and cavy rearing, this project with a total cost of 5 billion was launched in 2007 for a duration of 5 years; its goal is the re-application of the knowledge acquired from the cane rat project to that of cavy production (PAPENOC 2010).  

Cavy culture in Cameroon 

As in other African countries, it is not known, when and by whom cavies have been introduced into Cameroon. This small livestock species is remarkably widely distributed in the country ranging from the western highlands to the southern forest zone. Nuwanyakpa et al (1997) reported that almost 90% of the farmers interviewed in the Northwest Province of Cameroon had heard about cavies only since the 1970s and 1980s; yet, these respondents were comprised by two-thirds of men and only one-third of women. Notwithstanding, cavies, like rabbits and chicken, are usually reared by women and children (Ngou-Ngoupayou et al 1995).  

Domestic cavies have immensely contributed to scientific research as they have been and are still used today as laboratory animals worldwide (Pritt 2012), where they have contributed greatly to progress in research on health issues like tuberculosis, juvenile diabetes, cholera, vaccine standardization, pharmacology, and research on scurvy (as cavies cannot synthesize vitamin C but must obtain it from their diet like humans). It is for this purpose (as laboratory animals) that some farmers raise them in Cameroon (Nuwanyakpa et al 1997).  

For most other farmers, however, cavy rearing is relatively cheaper and easier compared to that of other livestock species as the animal requires little space, its feeding is cheap, besides it can be fed with a large variety of wild plants, harvest and kitchen wastes, vegetables, and fruit off-cuts. Animals are also very resistant to disease, reproduce quickly and all year round (can be put to reproduction at 2 months of age). Above all, cavy produces meat that is higher in protein and lower in fat contents compared with beef, chicken, lamb and pork (Rico-Numbela and Rivas-Valencia 2003). 

In most cultures in Cameroon, women and children are the stakeholders in cavy production, and most cavies are sold in the local markets for income to carter for certain basic needs. On the other hand, available meat is often reserved for the family head. Secondly, periods of adequate meat consumption coincide with the festive seasons of Ramadan and Christmas when most groups contribute to buy small and large ruminants to slaughter and share. Malnutrition, therefore, is apparent amongst women and children, for a greater part of the year especially for resource-poor rural dwellers. Cavy rearing becomes an affordable way out of malnutrition for these women as not only will their families’ diets be improved upon, but they shall also be able to generate a sustainable income that, in turn, shall earn them respect from their husbands (CTA 2008). Others breed cavies in order to raise income by either selling the animals to those who eat them or by selling their droppings as manure or organic fertilizer to farmers and gardeners. It is for these reasons that the cavy is often considered as a mini-livestock species for rural development in Cameroon.  

Research and development of cavy culture in Cameroon  

In the 1980s, first cavy research and development activities were put in place within a project on rabbit production for smallholders (Lukefahr and Preston 1999; Lukefahr et al 2000) (Table 1). Cavies were included in this project as the widespread distribution of the animal in Cameroon was observed by project collaborators and their combination with rabbits appeared useful. Since these first activities, Heifer International Cameroon (HIC) has continued to promote cavy culture in the country (Lukefahr et al 2000; Laisin et al 2011). In the 1990s, another development project focused on mini-livestock species, including cavies for Cameroon (Table 1). Within the research collaboration with the Italian University of Milan, a number of studies took place that, for the first time, established and mapped the distribution of cavy culture in Cameroon and even across Africa (Ngoupayou et al 1994, 1995; Nuwanyakpa et al 1997). In addition, Manjeli et al (1998) conducted the first year-round study that characterized all production and reproduction parameters for traditional cavy culture in Cameroon. During the course of these projects, a substantial number of studies took place that aimed at improving productive and reproductive performance of cavies. Outcomes of various experiments have been published and they are summarized in Table 2.  

In collaboration with the University of Dschang and IRVZ (Institut de Recherches Zootechniques et Vétérinaires), experiments were especially carried out to improve feeding by applying a variety of alternative feed sources. It became apparent that farmers could use a large variety of available feeds that were cheaper than concentrate feeding. However, Kenfack et al (2006) indicated that substitution of Napier grass (Pennisetum purpureum) with Arachis glabrata did not affect reproductive parameters. Other research focused on improving the management of the animals. Factors like early weaning could improve birth weight of kids in subsequent litters and also improved their pre-weaning growth rates and survival (Niba et al 2004a).

Table 1: Summary of research and development activities for promoting cavy culture in Cameroon since the 1980s.


Type of activity / project

Major outcome

Additional remarks







Heifer Project International-Cameroon (HIC)

A project on rabbit promotion for smallholders since 1983; cavies were added to activities in the 1990s

Improved nutrition for cavy keepers, empowerment of women and increase in household income of farm families

24 improved cavies for meat production from Ecuador were introduced to Cameroon in 1996.

Nuwanyakpa et al 1997; Lukefahr  and Preston 1999  Lukefahr et al 2000 ; Laisin et al 2011.


ECC/Directorate General XII under the Science and Technology Programme for Development (funder)

'Microlivestock as food and feed under semi-urban farming systems' (TS2-0263), started in 1990


Scientific collaboration between Cameroon (Univ. of Dschang and IRVZ) and Italy (Instituto di Zootecnia Generale della Facolta di Agraria, University Degli Studi, Milano).

Cicogna et al 1992; Hardouin 1995

Institut de Recherches Zootechniques et Vétérinaires, Yaounde (presently IRAD); University of Dschang, Dschang

Various on-station studies with students since the 1980s

Mostly on training of students and young researchers for research on cavy production

15 articles published in journals; 2 BSc, 4 MSc theses, mostly published.

University of Dschang, Faculty of Agronomy and Agricultural Sciences and IRAD archives

Table 2: Summary of research results from published articles on cavy culture in Cameroon.

Research area

Type of research

Influence on animal performance

Additional remarks


Feeding and nutrition

Supplementation with legumes (on station research)

Improved reproductive and growth performance.


Tchoumboue et al 2001

Supplementation with cottonseed cake (on station)

Feed intake, growth performance and carcass characteristics were improved


Niba et al 2004b

Supplementation with Moringa oleifera or multinutrient block (on station)

Moringa oleifera could be a cost-effective supplement for rural communities to improve growth performance of cavies


Pamo et al 2005

Feeding with tropical grasses (on station)


Cavy manure had a positive effect on growth of Panicum maximum, Brachiaria ruziziensis and Trypsacum laxum.

Kouonmenoic et al 2000






Productivity and management

Traditional management (on farm)

Productivity indices: 0.827 kg of young weaned per doe per year, 1560 g of young weaned per kg of doe per year and 2.52 kg of young weaned per kg metabolic weight (kg0.75) of female per year.

Only existing year-round study of traditional cavy husbandry in Africa.

Manjeli et al 1998

Productivity (on station)

5 litters/female/year, 7.8 ± 1.4 young/ female/year, 3.1 ± 0.5 kg live weight produced/ female/year at 15 weeks of age.


Fotso et al 1995

Pre-weaning growth and survival (on station)

Birth weight explains much of the variation in pre-weaning growth and survival for cavies. Animals with birth weights <50 g had high pre-weaning mortality (83.3%), while for birth weights >90 g, mortality was significantly lower (3.5%).


Niba et al 2004a






Managing weaning age

Intensive management (on station)

A potential increase of 28.8 g of live weight at 12 weeks of age for every 1 g increase in birth weight can be obtained.


Niba et al 2008

Intensive management (on station) For kids

Growth rates of kids weaned earlier (16 days after birth) were comparable to those weaned at 21 days.

Early weaning is important for reducing the triple load of the developing fetus, suckling kids and body maintenance on reproducing females.

Fonteh et al 2005

Intensive management (on station)  For reproducing females

Late weaning at 84 days reduced litter size by 0.3 kids, when compared with weaning at 11 days.

Greater litter sizes increase overall meat production from cavies.

Niba et al 2009






Animal breeding and genetics

Body measurements

General body size and appendage factors are the main factors of shared variability that control body conformation in local domestic cavy.

Principal component analysis is a useful tool for analyzing causes of variation observed in the local domestic cavy population.

Anye et al 2010a

Body measurements

General body size and appendage factors contributed significantly to live weight.


Anye et al 2010b

On-station studies in IRVZ indicated that it is possible to have 5 litters of 7.8 ± 1.4 young/female/year under presumed optimal husbandry conditions (Fotso et al 1995). Paradoxically, Manjeli et al (1998) estimated an annual reproductive rate of 9.18 young/doe per year under traditional management and on average, cavy does produce 2.52 kg of young at weaning for every kg of metabolic weight per year.  

It was also during the HIC project that improved, large cavies from Ecuador have been introduced to Cameroon in 1996 (Nuwanyakpa et al 1997). These animals were descendants from a large body size line developed by Lilia Chauca de Zaldívar and collaborators in Peru. The imported breed was referred to as “Colombien”. Today, however, it has been impossible to locate this breed in the country. Probably it has been absorbed in the local genepool. Other activities focused on improved housing for the animals that could also result in enhanced management. Two main systems of housing have been practiced, the raised floor system (Photo 1) which provides better hygienic conditions and protection from predators promoted by HIC and the traditional deep litter system where animals are housed in kitchens (Photo 2).

Photo 1: Cavies on a raised floor system of production in
the western highlands of Cameroon (Photo by A T Niba).

Photo 2: A typical deep litter system for raising cavies on the kitchen floor in Nitop1-Bamenda-Western Highlands of Cameroon (Photo by A.T Niba)

In a recent survey of 49 HIC-assisted farmers from Mughu (n=20), Bamessing and Ndop town (n=29) in the Northwest region of Cameroon (Laisin et al 2011), positive changes have been observed in the respective farm households and their environments; household nutrition improved and the increase in farm household income was used to pay for education, health and household needs. Socioeconomic empowerment of women was discerned where, in 100% of the supported farm households, women were involved in decision making during marketing, use of the income and consumption of the cavies. Men had no control over the benefits that came from the project of cavy production conducted by HIC’s Pilot Guinea Pig Project: Development Assistance Package to Guinea Pig Farmers. 97% of the farm households utilized the cavy droppings for crop agriculture and planted leguminous trees, such as Leucaena leucocephala as forage, which also improved soil fertility. 

Capacity building for cavy production 

There are two courses on non-conventional livestock production, in which cavy production is an integral part, that have been included in the university curriculum at the Faculty of Agronomy and Agricultural Sciences, University of Dschang. One course is taught to undergraduate students of the Department of Animal Production (3-credit course of 45 hours -30 lecture hours plus 15 practical hours). The second course is offered at MSc level in the same department and is entitled ‘Systems of non-conventional animal production’ (6-credit course of 45 hours lecture and 15 hours practical work). A summary of past and current student research on cavy culture at the Faculty of Agronomy and Agricultural Sciences, University of Dschang is presented in Table 3.

Table 3: Summary of student research conducted on improving cavy culture at the Faculty of Agronomy and Agricultural Sciences, University of Dschang, Cameroon.

Degree in view

Students (no.)

Area of studies



Past studies







Animal nutrition

Graduated (published)

Niba et al 2004b


Reproductive physiology

Graduated (published)

Niba et al 2009








Genetics and productions systems

Graduated (published)

Anye et al  2010a. 2010b



Graduated (2 published /
1 unpublished)

Tchoumboue et al 2001; Kenfack et al 2006.

On-going studies







Animal nutrition








Genetics and productions systems




Animal physiology










Animal nutrition



Capacity building for cavy keepers in Cameroon together with technical and material support has been offered over the years by HIC as indicated by Laisin et al (2011) and by the Ministry of Livestock Fisheries and Animal industries (PAPENOC 2010). These two agencies together with numerous NGOs and farmer organizations have offered training on various aspects of animal production in which cavy culture has also featured prominently.  

Several cavy producers’ networks have been established, for example within the North West and West Farmers’ Association, and continue to function since the 1990s. These cavy farmers associations help to improve their network through provision of animals for new members, sales at markets, consumption and promotion of cavy training workshops for new members.  

Challenges and opportunities of cavy culture in Cameroon  

The main constraints to cavy culture in Cameroon have been health, inadequate nutrition, poor management practices, and predation mainly from cats, dogs and snakes. Some of these constraints are attributable to the fact that there is poor farmer knowledge on the handling and management of cavies in Cameroon (Nuwanyakpa et al 1997).  

The challenge for research and development of cavy production in Cameroon requires knowledge on:

1.      Breeding and selection based on appropriate traits.

2.      Adequate feeding according to the nutritional requirements of the animals, especially regarding alternative feed resources for dry season feeding.

3.      Diseases and parasites that may limit production in smallholder farming systems.

4.      Management practices concerning reproduction, housing, herd size and feeding.

Research and development of the domestic cavy in Cameroon is in line with the Government's policy for assisting resource-poor farmers through poverty alleviation schemes, ensuring food security and research for development. Research results will be applicable wherever cavies contribute to improving the socio-economic status of resource-poor farmers. 

Another important aspect of developing cavy production in Cameroon should focus on improving communication among all stakeholders. Stakeholder participation will enhance knowledge on cavy production, management, marketing, disease control and prevention measures and, consequently, their productivity and the quality of life of cavy farmers.  

Producing the domestic cavy, like livestock in general, is an integral part of the mixed farming systems in Cameroon, especially as a backyard animal. Although presently only low animal numbers per household exist, they may represent important but hidden contributors to income generation and food supply for resource-poor farmers. Due to the fact that they form an integral part of the rural landscape, the development of cavy production will have a direct impact on rural development in Cameroon.



The authors are grateful for the financial support by the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) under the Africa Food Security Initiative and through the partnership between Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) Hub at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), who are leading the project under which writing this review is an activity.


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Received 27 August 2012; Accepted 28 September 2012; Published 6 November 2012

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