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Domestic cavies: improving production, nutritional protein and household income

Domestic cavies in DRCFood security is a real challenge in most parts of Africa. All over Africa, dietary protein remains very low.  Regular supply of small quantities of animal protein has been shown to be crucial for adequate physical and cognitive development of children.
Domestic cavies (or guinea pigs as they are called in other parts of the world) provide a high-quality meat source with high levels of protein in similar quantity as chicken meat, i.e. the raw meat generally contains about 19-20% protein as opposed to beef or lamb with lower protein contents (17-19%). The cavy skin that is usually consumed, contains even more than 30% protein. In addition, the white cavy meat has excellent nutritional property, being low in cholesterol.
Domestic cavy (Cavia porcellus L.) are widely used as meat in a broad belt of sub-humid Africa, from Senegal in West Africa to Tanzania in East Africa.and are heavily relied upon for family nutrition and income generation, especially for women and children. Despite their widespread use in these countries - domestic cavies have been largely ignored in research and development. Little has been known about production systems and productivity, genetic diversity, feeding systems, consumption habits of people, and cavy culture in general.

How has this project contributed to research and development for Africa?

Coordinated by a national partner, University of Dschang, Cameroon and implemented in Cameroon and eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the project focused on understanding the potential for livelihood improvement among smallholders through cavy-rearing and to gain a snapshot of the key breeding and feeding issues for cavy-keepers in the region.

The project found that cavy-keeping is dominated by women (> 60%) and youth (>12%) in both countries. Estimates suggest that 200,000 and 100,000-200,000 households keep cavies in Cameroon and South Kivu, DRC respectively. In DRC, cavies exist at the base of the ‘livestock ladder’ and, as such, have potential as a key stepping stone to the farming of other livestock. Because the farming of chicken is more challenging in the humid tropics, the potential for cavies as an entry point for livestock farming is greater, while also favoring participation by women and youths.  Some commercial farms in DRC are now operational and cavy trading (with traders selling 300 cavies/month to restaurants) is developing in Cameroon.

The mechanism that the project used to work with local cavy-keepers, NGOs, restauranteurs etc was through establishing functional innovation platforms involving multiple stakeholders. Regular meetings of these platforms and their social connections have enabled the research teams to understand and explore the issues associated with cavy keeping and marketing, and have provided a successful mechanism to disseminate the new knowledge on improved cavy husbandry and are stimulating demand and interest among new organizations and communities.

Lead institutions comprise the BecA-ILRI Hub, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT, Nairobi), the University of Dschang School of Agriculture (Cameroon), and Université Evangélique en Afrique (UEA) in Bukavu, South Kivu Province, DRC.

Resources available

Research partners

  • Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), Australia
  • Food for the Hungry, an international NGO
  • Heifer Project International, an international NGO
  • Centre d'Accompagnement de Nouvelles Alternatives de Développement Local, Cameroon
  • Centre de Recherche en Sciences Naturels, Lwiro, South Kivu, DRC
  • Mission de Développement du Nord Ouest, Cameroon
  • Projet d’Appui aux Elevages Non Conventionnels, Cameroon
  • South West Development Authority, Cameroon
  • Service d’Appui aux Initiatives Locales de Développement, Cameroon
  • Women for Women, an international NGO

Australian connections:

Scientists from Advanced Research Institutes in Australia, namely the CSIRO and universities, will support the project by collaborating and advising in research areas, such as:

  • Human nutrition: effects of animal-source food on human health
  • Animal improvement: genetics, animal breeding
  • Capacity building: training of cavy famers, staff and students from African universities and/or research institutes


References :

  1. Grillenberger, M., Neumann, C.G., Murphy, S.P., Bwibo, N.O., Weiss, R.E., Jiang, L., Hautvast, J.G.A.J. and West, C.E. 2006. Intake of micronutrients high in animal-source foods is associated with better growth in rural Kenyan school children. British Journal of Nutrition 95:379-390.

      Rico Numbela and Rivas-Valencia (2003) cite protein levels that generally refer to meat of these animals and not to particular cuts of lean meat. Similarly Bender (1992) shows the great variation of protein contents and the effects of cooking on it. References

  2. Rico-Numbela, E. and Rivas-Valencia, C. 2003. Guinea pig management manual. Benson Agriculture and Food Institute, Provo UT, USA, 54 pp [cited 2012 Jan 31]; from:

    - Bender, A. 1992. Meat and meat products in human nutrition in developing countries. Tables (part III).

    -  Animal Production and Health Division and Food Policy and Nutrition Division of FAO, Food and Nutrition Paper 53. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome, Italy. [cited 2012 Jan 31]; from: 

  3. Higaonna-O., R., Muscari-G., J., Chauca-F., L. and Astete, F. 2008. Composición química de la carne de cuy (Cavia porcellus). In: INIA. Investigaciones en cuyes, Trabajos presentados a la Asociación Peruana de Producción Animal, INIA – CE La Molina, Universidad Agraria La Molina, Universidad Peruana Cayetano, Heredia, Aprodes. APPA 2008, Lima, Peru. Available 2012 Jan 31 from: 

  4. We use the name ‘domestic cavy’ in this project instead of the colloquial ‘Guinea pig’ as already suggested by Cumberland (1886, cited by Endersby 2009) because the latter provides a wrong impression of a domestic animal that neither originates from Guinea nor is a pig; this name is also more appropriate due to its proximity to the Peruvian name ‘cuy’ that has been used throughout English texts like that of Morales (1994) for the same reasons. References:

    Endersby, J. 2009. Cavia porcellus: mathematical guinea pigs. In: A guinea pig’s history of biology: the animals and plants who taught us the facts of life. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, pp. 209-250.

    Morales, E. 1994. The guinea pig in the Andean economy: From household animal to market commodity, Latin American Research Review, 29(3):129-142.

  5. Ngou-Ngoupayou, J.D., Kouonmenioc, J., Fotso Tagny, J.M., Cicogna, M., Castroville, C., Rigoni, M. and Hardouin, J. 1995. Possibilités de développement de l'élevage du cobaye en Afrique subsaharienne: le cas du Cameroun. World Animal Review (FAO/AGA) 83(2) :21-28 [cited 2012 Jan 31]; from:

  6. Matthiesen, T., Nyamete, F., Msuya, J.M. and Maass, B.L. 2011. Importance of guinea pig husbandry for the livelihood of rural people in Tanzania – a case study in Iringa Region. Presented at “Development at the Margin”, Tropentag, 5-7 Oct. 2011, University of Bonn, Germany. Book of Abstracts, p.  342. [cited 2012 Jan 31]; from :

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