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WORLD ARK/HEIFER INTERNATIONAL (U.S.A.), BBC (U.K.)

Heifer International, a charity that provides livestock to poor and landless farmers worldwide to help them lift themselves out of poverty, has recently "downsized" its offerings. In addition to cows and goats, they are now also donating cane rats, more appetizingly known as grasscutters, whose meat is prized in West Africa.

German government development agency GTZ is also helping farmers in sub-Saharan Africa turn to this form of “micro-livestock.”

The grasscutter, normally found only in the wild, is a “rodent of unusual size,” reports World Ark journalist Annie Bergman. It resembles a cross between a beaver and a rat and can grow to two feet long and weigh almost 20 pounds.

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Locals insist that it is also delicious. “People like it more than other meats,” a farmer told the BBC. The meat is lean and used in many different dishes, and has become a favorite for Christmas feasts.

Until recently, the only way to get grasscutter meat was to buy it from hunters, but that has grown rarer as the populations have increased and the wilderness acreage diminishes.

But with a little training, a farmer can raise the animals on only a small plot of land, sustainably. The first few grasscutter farmers are making a good living and the market is expanding. According to World Ark, one formerly destitute farmer says he is making at least $1,400 a year, twice the average income in Ghana, since receiving his first grasscutters.

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