Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Guineafowls

17 January 2011
My work here in Bongo District Assembly involves study of some interventions identified by the district assembly of Bongo and developing strategies to promote those interventions in the district. One of the interventions identified is Guineafowl rearing. In this post I am writing about the scene of Guineafowl rearing and marketing, as observed by me here in Bongo. This post is the based on my article in Marathi, which I recently wrote for a Agrowon newspaper.
Guineafowl is a semi domesticated bird indigenous to savannah region of West Africa. It is in the family of Chicken. Though it is semi domesticated, it is an important livelihood source for the rural population in this part of Ghana. Almost all the rural households are engaged in rearing of this bird and approximately of 25% of the average family income is derived from poultry. Amongst all the poultry birds, number of guinea fowls is always the largest because of ease in their rearing. Number of guinea fowls reared by the farmers ranges from 10 to 300. One peculiarity of the economic arrangements in the households is that women and men in the house rear their birds separately. Even children who have attained 10 years of age are encouraged by their parents to rear their own guinea fowls and they are trained in this skill very early. The farmers having very less number of birds do it for meeting their consumption needs as well as meeting the expenses at the time of emergencies. The farmers who have more number of birds see it as a major source of income.
Guinea fowls can not be reared in complete confinement because they have a natural tendency for scavenging. The best way to attain maximum benefits from Guinea fowl is by keeping them in the semi confined state. Farmers keep the birds in the shelters in the night and provide them with some feeding and water. During the day, the birds keep roaming outside within the radius of about 500 m from their shelter. Due to this habit of the birds, they also lay their eggs outside in the open and there is huge loss of eggs amounting to almost 90%. Farmers generally collect the eggs and get them incubated under female chicken. One interesting fact about egg laying of guinea fowls is unlike chicken, these birds do not go into brooding state. Thus they keep on laying every day. However the egg laying season is generally from April to November.
Some farmers have improved their rearing techniques. They provide their birds with balanced feeding and they train them to lay eggs in the designated places. These days some farmers use locally fabricated incubators and provide hatching services to others. Some farmers have been able to increase the laying season by better management of the birds.
The birds are not all free from problems however. As they roam freely and lay their eggs in the open, there is always danger from predators and thieves. Some attention on the birds when they are moving is always helpful. Some farmers mark their birds with a unique marking system in which they cut parts of their toes in some specific designs, so that they do not get mixed with birds of other farmers. Some diseases which are commonly found in Chicken are also seen attacking Guinea fowls. These diseases include Gumboro, Paralysis, New Castle, Coccidiosis etc. There is also common occurrence of worms and mineral deficiencies. An important aspect with the control of these problems is that because of their scavenging habit, it is always difficult to notice the symptoms of the diseases in the birds.
The birds get ready for sale in the market in 6-8 months. Under better management and with the use of fast growing breeds, one can sale the birds in 4-6 months. Some farmers buy the birds from other farmers before they are mature for sale and fatten them for 2-3 months until they are ready for sale. Generally there is a very high demand for the birds during the local traditional festivals which come mostly in the months of November and December. There is also demand during the time of Christmas, Easter and Ramadan. The marketing of birds is not a big problem though lack of standards in the market is. The price is always determined by negotiation between buyers and sellers. Farmers with very less number of birds sell it locally whereas farmers with large number of birds sell it in larger town level markets. Some traders move from one market to the other and aggregate the birds for the larger city markets. Restaurants and Kebab corners are one of the major buyers of Guinea fowl.
Most of the buyers and consumers in the towns prefer buying the live birds. The consumers in the cities however prefer processed or properly dressed birds and do not like to spend time in the culling and cleaning, which is obvious because of the busy lifestyle in the cities. There are some entrepreneurs who are in the business of processing of Guinea fowl meat for long term preservation. The processing is done either by smoke drying method or by freezing. Smoke dried Guinea fowl is more popular in the traditional markets whereas frozen meat is more being explored in the bigger cities like Accra since it requires refrigerated storage and transport. The meat of Guinea fowl is considered as tastier than that of chicken and has less fat and almost free from chemical residues. Due to these reasons, it enjoys a niche market and does not compete with other meats in the market. Eggs of Guinea fowl are available in plenty in the small towns during the peak season of egg laying,. Some women do petty businesses by selling cooked eggs. They are also commonly used for the witchcraft. In the period of scarcity of eggs, people pay very high prices.
Though Guinea fowl rearing is not as developed as commercial chicken poultry sector, it is a major enterprise in this region. The farmers prefer rearing Guinea fowl as it needs very low investment and the risks involved are very less. It surely has big potential to change the economy of this region. When out in the field, guinea fowls make a lot of noise, but when they arrive on the plate all well cooked, they are very delicious.
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Guineafowl birds
traditional bird house
Traditional housing for the birds
hatching eggs stored in dawadawa seeds
Indigenous technical know how- Guineafowl eggs stored in earthen pots on dawadawa seeds remain fertile for longer duration
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Negotiations over the price of the Guineafowl in the village market