Kevin Ananda grew up watching his uncles harvest wild quails in Luanda, Western Kenya. The birds, which were harvested twice every year following short and long rains, were available in plenty between May to July and November to February.
Quail Farming Scam
These childhood experiences would drive him to quail farming in 2014. Interestingly, it was around this time that most commercial quail farmers were ditching the venture that had been labelled a scam after farmers failed to get market for their birds. The much-hyped quail egg which was acclaimed as highly medicinal had also lost market when consumers failed to see immediate changes in their bodies after they ate it.
“I loved the way indigenous quails were harvested. I thought it was an opportunity to finally see a quail lay and hatch eggs. I had never seen quail eggs before,” says Ananda.
“Starting quail farming for me was like swimming against the storm. While farmers were ditching the venture after the losses they incurred, there I was buying the birds to rear them.”
It was a year that saw farmers who had jumped on the project which was then hyped as a money-spinner abandon the business when they couldn’t find market for the birds.
Commercial quails were first introduced in Kenya in 2010 amid hype by middlemen that saw farmers jump on the venture that fetched a tidier sum compared to other birds. Following the hype, farmers and middlemen sold quail eggs at up to Sh100. The eggs especially fetched quick cash as they were said to cure impotency, hypertension among other health complications. Where mature indigenous quails were sold from as low as Sh10, commercial quails that were imported from Japan and other countries where the bird is domesticated were going for as high as Sh500.
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All was well until the market was flooded with imported quail products.
Over-hyped quail benefits
Stephen Ogada, a PhD student at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) blames the plunge in quail farming on misinformation during the hype that surrounded quail farming.
“People lost confidence in the myths that were propagated by middlemen when quails were first commercially introduced in Kenya,” says Ogada.
He says middlemen who were interested in making quick cash rode on the fact that quail eggs have a rich component of zinc and other rare minerals linked to the management of erectile dysfunction among other health complications. This information, he says, was completely blown out of proportion.
According to the JKUAT researcher, people who had never seen quails until the exotic ones were introduced in Kenya only about a decade ago were those who were caught up in the quail craze.
“I don’t think anyone who grew up eating wild quails in Nyanza and in the Western parts of Kenya was caught up in the quail craze.”
Breeding superior quails
The JKUAT geneticist, who has been to different parts of Kenya where quails are reared for meat and eggs is currently working at the JKUAT lab to analyze the genetic diversity of wild quails in a study that will inform breeding of quails with desirable characteristics.
In a team of other PhD students from the university’s food and science department, Biochemistry and Biotechnology, the researcher also aims to bring out differences between wild and farm-reared quails in Kenya and also analyze nutritional benefits of the different types of quails.
According to Ogada, changing times have made it impossible for farmers to rely on wild quails, which only appear seasonally, underscoring the need for the country to establish a sustainable breeding programme that will ensure quails are available every time.
“The government needs to have a proper breeding programme that will be informed by studies in the genetic diversity of the available quails to come up with a founder population of quails. That way, we shall stop farmers from going into the bushes to harvest the quails every time they migrate from other countries,” he says.
These farmers, according to the researcher operate illegally as they don’t have Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) permits.
He says harvesting quails that migrate from other countries in search of food and warmth raises the concerns of genetic erosion and may result in the loss of some species.
“We observed that more male quails are often captured than females using indigenous methods used in harvesting wild quails. This may also lead to ecological imbalance,” he says.
Besides, the natural grassland areas along Lake Victoria and most parts of western province where wild quails were harvested are fast disappearing due to increased farming, according to the JKUAT researcher.
He says quail migration pattern is also becoming increasingly unreliable due to dangers associated with climate, a situation that makes wild quail harvesting a less sustainable venture.
According to the JKUAT researcher, the increasing genetic manipulation of chicken by unscrupulous scientists continues to affect the immunity and productivity of the chicken, making it an increasingly unattractive venture.
Additionally, quails which cost as low as Sh50 provide a cheaper alternative of food to other birds.
Supervising the study dubbed ‘Genetic diversity of wild quails, Dr Sheila Ommeh, a molecular geneticist at JKUAT’s Institute for Biotechnology Research (IBR) says the country needs a more sustainable quail breeding programme to empower farmers.