At Charles Mwale’s homestead in Wote, Makueni County, a family of quails sings gracefully above the trees that adorn his home, perhaps countering the unending shrieks by the guinea pigs busy chewing dry leaves in their cages down below. My attempt to count the rat-like animals was not successful as they kept on jumping over each other but Mwale assured me that he had between 240 and 250 guinea pigs and at least 170 quails.
And after quail-farming recently got a lot of flack after the trade was infiltrated with conmen, Mwale stuck with the birds, saying he has his own market, which also comprises eaters of guinea pigs.
“People eat these birds and rodents. I sell guinea pigs at Sh200 while the quails go for Sh100 in Wote,’’ explained Mwale. He joked that while young people hesitate to eat them, elderly people in the area salivate even at the mention of quails and guinea pig meat.
Mwale is among few farmers in the world who are still embracing rearing and cultivation of edible indigenous animals and crops which are slowly running into extinction with a recent FAO report on agro biodiversity indicating that 75 per cent of plant and animal genetic diversity has been lost since the 1900s as farmers go for high yielding genetically modified breeds.
The report further showed that of the close to 300,000 known edible plant and animal species, human beings only consume a paltry 150-200 species at a time when the world is concerned about food security. The biodiversity report however regretted that 90 per cent of the crop varieties have disappeared from farmers’ fields while a half of domestic animals have been lost.
The study explained that the term ‘wild food’ commonly used in reference to edible plant and animals harvested or collected outside agricultural fields has misled people into food biasness yet some of those crops and animals’ products are highly nutrition while some have medicinal value. The report however shows that if environmental degradation is curbed, wild crop and animals will be produced hence a possible food alternative to clamp down the impending global food security threat.
While acknowledging efforts brought about by genetically modified animal and plants breeds in increasing global food, the report however faulted the genetic revolution for the widespread cultivation and rearing of fewer varieties and breeds resulting into uniform produce hence bringing more competitiveness into the global food market. The study also looked at the effects of genetic erosion on global food. It found that as more countries embrace genetically modified foods, original breeds are disappearing, leaving behind weaker breeds which are highly susceptible to pests and diseases.
In a bid to produce more alternative food for the growing world population, the report puts more emphasis on environmental conservation stating that once the forest cover is cleared, the wild food will extinct, leaving behind unfavorable climatic condition to even grow and rear genetically modified breeds.