Harare looks to quails to boost econ

Business Mirror - - THE WORLD - AP

HARARE, Zim­babwe— A small bird has as­sumed heavy­weight sig­nif­i­cance in Zim­babwe. Thou­sands of un­em­ployed peo­ple are look­ing to the quail as a de­liv­er­ance from the dire eco­nomic con­di­tions in this south­ern African coun­try. While quail farm­ing is al­ready big in coun­tries, such as In­dia, few Zim­bab­weans out­side bird ex­perts and ru­ral folk knew about the shy bird un­til a few months ago, when ru­mors spread that the quail has medic­i­nal value.

Now it has gained huge eco­nomic, po­lit­i­cal, re­li­gious, medic­i­nal and en­ter­tain­ment value in a coun­try whose of­fi­cial sta­tis­tics agency says the ma­jor­ity of cit­i­zens sur­vive on just a dol­lar a day. Back­yards have been turned into breed­ing zones by peo­ple flock­ing to cash in on the craze. And a new breed of poach­ers is risk­ing lion at­tacks to sneak into na­tional parks to hunt quail birds, En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Op­pah Muchin­guri told Par­lia­ment.

“Some were al­most shot by rangers,” she said last month. Muchin­guri in April announced a ban on back­yard quail breed­ing pend­ing re­search on the sup­posed medic­i­nal qual­i­ties. She was soon eat­ing her own words fol­low­ing a back­lash.

“The birds are very delicious,” Em­mer­son Mnan­gagwa, the deputy pres­i­dent, said later in Par­lia­ment in an at­tempt to cool down law­mak­ers an­gered by the ban. He said peo­ple would be al­lowed to con­tinue breed­ing.

Quail prod­ucts now sell for triple the price of chicken prod­ucts. A fried quail goes for about $ 5 at many restau­rants.

Large chain stores promi­nently dis­play neatly pack­aged eggs. On street cor­ners, sales­peo­ple dis­trib­ute fliers claim­ing quail eggs can treat an ar­ray of ail­ments, in­clud­ing restor­ing sex­ual po­tency.

The quail craze has echoes of last year’s sud­den pop­u­lar­ity of dog breed­ing, which has since been largely aban­doned be­cause dogs aren’t eaten in Zim­babwe.

“I have 400 birds, but I pre­fer sell­ing the eggs be­cause they are more prof­itable,” said 28- year- old Gwynn Kariwo, show­ing off a back­yard cage teem­ing with quails in Harare’s poor High­field sub­urb.

Stung by competition, a lead­ing fried chicken fran­chise has been run­ning ad­ver­tise­ments de­rid­ing the quail as an “over­rated sidechick.”

For co­me­di­ans, the bird has pro­vided steady ma­te­rial, with some sug­gest­ing that Zim­babwe in­tro­duce a new cur­rency named af­ter the quail. Others pre­fer to see the re­li­gious side of the trend.

“God has sent food and work to starv­ing and un­em­ployed Zim­bab­weans,” said Fran­cis Man­hombo, a for­mer law­maker. “The prob­lem is that ev­ery­one ev­ery­where is do­ing it, hop­ing to be­come mil­lion­aires overnight.”

He has teamed up with an­other for­mer law­maker, Younus Pa­tel, to sup­ply big chain stores. Their com­pany’s flier quotes a bib­li­cal verse that refers to when God is said to have pro­vided quail birds to strug­gling Is­raelites on their way to Canaan.

Pa­tel’s phone rang con­stantly dur­ing an in­ter­view with The As­so­ci­ated Press as breed­ers called to try to sell birds and eggs. Other call­ers were su­per­mar­ket agents ask­ing for de­liv­er­ies be­cause they are run­ning out of stock.

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