KITGUM. Lovers of anyeri, a rare bush rat delicacy across northern region, may soon stop bush-firing to make a kill for the dry season dish if plans to domesticate the grasscutters or cane rats is realised.
State Minister for Environment, Ms Beatrice Anywar, announced the ambitious plan to pilot the project to fight indiscriminate bush-burning and destruction of the environment in northern Uganda.
Ms Anywar made the revelation at an awareness meeting on Parish Development Model (PDM) with elected special interest groups and local leaders of Kitgum District and municipality at the District Council Hall on last week. PDM seeks to enhance household incomes and uplift rural families’ living standards.
“People are burning grass every dry season, you destroy the whole area looking for just two edible rats. What is wrong with you?” she asked.
The Acholi, at the height of every dry season and before the onset of the rains, burn swathes of bushes for new grass to sprout for pasture and farming. The hunters also take advantage and torch bushes to ease hunting for wild game.
Their kill, especially the rare but in-demand giant edible rats, have ready market and are sold expensively.
Anyeri lives by reed-beds and riverbanks and can grow to nearly 2 feet in length and weighs between 5 and 9 kilogrammes. On average, an anyeri, is sold for between Shs18,000 to 30,0000, while a dish of the delicacy pokes holes in one’s pockets by Shs6,000 at local eateries.
Anyeri, which is also a popular dish among the Jopadhola, the Langi, Ethur, and the Alur, is often smoked and cooked in simsim or groundnut paste to make a yummy sauce. But the animals are now in short supply, but are known to multiply rapidly.
The minister revealed that two years ago when she visited a West African country she did not name, she was surprised to discover that anyeri were being reared at home, unlike in northern Uganda where they live in the wild and are hunted.
“I know the Acoli love anyeri meat so much. But I am not aware whether you know that anyeri can be reared at home,” Ms Anywar said.
“I went to a West African country and got very huge anyeri over there – even white ones – they’re reared at home,” she said, to the surprise and amusement of the audience.
At this point, a Kitgum municipal NRM official Okello Lakeli, chipped in and wondered loudly whether the domesticated West African edible rat “were as delicious as our local ones here,” prompting laughter and giggles from the audience, including the minister.
“So, we’re looking for ways to domesticate these edible rats here in Uganda,” Ms Anywar said.
She said she had already made follow ups in the last two years on how to bring some of the breeds to Acholi.
“I’ll bring the project here; I’ll start piloting it at my home,” she said.
The minister did not say what grasscutter species she preferred or preparations she had already undertaken at her home to rear the bush meat delicacy. The project requires housing and equipment, feeding, reproduction, animal health, stock management and marketing.
“But what we want now is for you to stop burning the bushes because if you want anyeri we are going to start rearing them at home like rabbits. So others can buy from you and you get money,” Ms Anywar said.
The environment minister said once the anyeri rearing projects kicks off, the environment would be protected. “My people, I appeal to you not to continue burning our environment,” she said.
Ms Anywar also warned that the President has directed her arrest those who burn the bushes.
She said people should have noticed that whenever they plant crops after burning the grass in their gardens, the yields drop.
Ms Anywar said all it took was for people’s mind-set to change and embrace the many commercially viable enterprises for people to increase household income and lift themselves out of abject poverty.
In Ghana and other West African countries, anyeri is also a popular delicacy often served with fufu.
The cane rats are now beginning to be raised in cages for sale and there are growing calls in Ghana to centre the fast-growing business in youth employment programmes.