Stanely Mushava Feature Correspondent
Harare, ever the site of short-lived crazes, witnessed a sudden surge in the popularity of quail breeding since this last year. The selling point of the new craze was the alleged medicinal and nutritional properties of the birds, while farmers embraced it as a more lucrative avenue as compared to chicken farming. For many recruits, it was the easy way out of hard time as current liquidity challenges have not made city life any rosier for hustlers who cannot fall back on a regular payday. The egg is said to prevent several diseases including cancer and heart problems but one of the reverberating sound bites was that the bird and its eggs mitigate the effects of HIV/AIDS.
For sceptics, quails may well have been the poultry version of the sack potatoes anticlimax of 2013.
Whatever the case, quail farmers sold their story further and wider and cashed in on the craze. A group of quail evangelists daily trooped around Construction House and other spots in the Harare central business district for customers and new recruits, propagating their good news to a receptive audience. Just as the quail flight was peaking, Environment, Water and Climate Minister Cde Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri this week took aim and brought it down.
Minister Muchinguri issued a ban on trading of the bird and its eggs on Thursday, pending a clear policy framework to regulate the trading of quails and their eggs. “Those crooks are selling a bird at a high price of $6, lying to our people that it will cure their diseases. That is false and people should not be fleeced,” Muchinguri said.
Minister Muchinguri, however, left the door open for licensed quail dealers to continue their trade. As at Friday, the quail traders had left their spots in the city. It seems like the end of the road for another Harare legend.
Can the quail be another phoenix, considering that it has been trending well at the time of its demise? Quail traders shared their minds with The Herald shortly after the high-flying quail legend landed.
Themba Chikandiwa of Farm Africa Trust, who trains quail handlers and supplies inputs, considers the ban ill-timed.
“A lot of people had put their money into quail projects in the wake of the bird’s massive popularity. The ban is ill-timed considering the economic hardships people are enduring,” Chikandiwa said.
He said the trade had been the route for some of the people out of unemployment.
“This is what should have been in place. The decision is correct from a policy but not well considered from a humanitarian point of view,” he said.
“It was important to consider how many people are into this (business) and at least give a grace period so that people recoup their expenses,” Chikandiwa added.
“The trade has been there for some time, now stretching back at least four years ago but there was a ripple effect early this year when people started learning about the medicinal properties of quail meat and eggs.
“The trade was not perfect. When word goes around about what is trending, people like to enter without much knowledge hence the need for training,” he said.
Chikandiwa said Government also needs to pro-actively research into quail birds as well as other phenomena of interest and institute a framework to control them instead of being reactive when people have taken it upon themselves to explore new avenues.
“That was the same problem people had with sack potatoes. People were taking up a venture without the benefit of proper research. Relevant Government departments and tertiary institutions are supposed to help in this regard,” Chikandiwa said.
He questioned objections to quail trading on the basis that they disrupted the environmental balance.
“The truth of the matter is that no one is going into the forests to trap these birds and bring them home. The eggs are being imported mostly from Japan,” Chikandiwa said.
He said he had witnessed the trade during his days as a student in Japan and joined few others who were already into the trade.
“In Japan, the eggs are sold even on the streets and the medicinal properties of the birds such as preventing cancer and cardiac problems are widely acknowledged,” he said.
Chikandiwa said quail trading was not an exclusively Zimbabwean phenomenon as it was accepted in other countries, its medicinal claims corroborated.
“This was not an overnight fad in Zimbabwe as some people may assume.
“There were already people into the business but they were supplying mainly to Indians who knew the dish from back home,” he said.
“The first company to venture into the trade was Hilltop, which started selling quail eggs and training new farmers beginning 2011 or thereabouts,” he added.
Chikandiwa also lauded the benefits of quail business as compared to chicken farming.
“The return is much higher as compared to what one will realise say with chicken rearing. The quail earns at least four times higher than the chicken per 100 birds not just because of pricing but also because it is cheaper to raise quails,” he said.
“The quail is also urban-friendly in that it requires less space,” he added.
Munyaradzi Munyuki, a Harare-based quail farmer, said he expected Government to give a grace period for traders to regularise their projects.
“This is not to say that we want to run these projects without paying tax but if such is to be done, then let that be done fairly,” Munyuki said.
“Mind you, the kind of breed of quails that the local farmers are keeping are not our usual Zimbabwean quails. Close to 100 percent, if not all, of the quails are from Egypt or Japan so that traders had parted with significant amounts of money to get into the business,” he said.
“Banning such projects over night does not help given such investments.
“Given that the economic and employment situation in the country is not good at the moment, this business had created a lot of jobs,” added Munyuki.
Munyuki pointed out that quail breeding is not just about selling eggs and birds but is an industry with different functions which are now on the line.
“There are farmers who were breeding these quails, the labourers hired for the projects, artisans who made specialised cages for these birds, those who charged for hatcheries and incubators, those who were popularly selling quail dishes, something commendable for this era where healthy eating is being promoted,” Munyuki said.
“The biggest question, however, is: Why it is that only the quail projects have been banned? I understand it is said to be a wild bird. Fine but how about the rabbits we have always bred at home, hangaiwa, mbira, hanga, ducks, geese, and many others?” Munyuki queried.
“It was also said that there is no proof that quail eggs have medicinal benefits but right here in Zimbabwe (before we even go to the laboratories) there is a good number of people who were suffering from different medical conditions who have come back to testify on their recovery and a much better life after taking the quail egg course,” Munyuki said.
“The medicinal qualities have been proven in a number of countries and on different continents ranging from Asia to Europe. Quails have been bred in homes since the early 1960s and the French actually started studying their medicinal, nutritional and health benefits around the same time while in China, quails’ eggs had already long been used as a remedy for asthma,” he said.
According Ovogenics, a Belgian pharmaceutical company, the most conclusive healing properties have been studied using a hybrid version of two specific quail species and it has been found that quails’ eggs are the most nutritional in the world.
“Quails’ eggs are considered to be the product of animal origin with the most balanced content of proteins, vitamins, minerals and enzymes,” Ovogenics’ website says.
“They are five times smaller than hens’ eggs but contain five times more phosphorus (very good for the brain, phosphorus’ action in the organism is above all essential to the health of bones and teeth), seven times more iron, six times more B1 vitamins (which play a crucial role in growth and the proper functioning of the cardiovascular, digestive and nervous systems) and 15 times more B2 vitamins (which help to protect the nervous system and support growth and tissue repair). And above all, they contain no cholesterol,” it says.
Meanwhile, Minister Muchinguri has said that those who were already keeping the birds can keep them for their own consumption pending the new framework. So it goes down to convict Hare’s trial appeal in the folktale, when the crafty character convinced other animals that before they ate him, as per verdict, they were to supply him with choice food in his cage and allow him space to grow into a bigger meal enough for all of them.
As Minister Muchinguri drafts her framework, the quail farmers who have been given monopoly over their dish will be the definitive case study as to whether the birds contain the medicinal and nutritional properties which have been their selling point.
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