Guinea fowl, a common bird reared mostly in the three northern regions, have sometimes in the country’s history become controversial notably the Konkomba/Nanumba war in the Northern Region in the early 90s.
In recent times, it has dominated local and social discourse. Many people might have known about this bird just through these controversial cases but the hidden fact is that this same bird holds a huge potential that could transform and alleviate poverty for millions of rural poor farmers when given the support.
Almost every rural farmer’s household can boast of some guinea fowls not only because the meat is a delicacy but also its cultural ramifications on the people of the northern savannah are not in doubt.
Throughout the procedure leading to final marriage rites, the bird plays key roles and a strong competitor to win the hearts of mother in-laws for the groom. A good son-in-law must compensate and woo the mother-in-laws with several guinea fowls and when it happens so, the groom is acclaimed in high esteem among his peers.
The Dagombas and Gonjas have designed festivals only for guinea fowls. During festivities such as funerals, libations and other social exchanges, the bird plays a part probably because the meat is hygienic and has low fat content.
Women in traditional Kasem-speaking Manyoro community in the Kassena/Nankana District taboo chicken and so the guinea fowl is a preserved for them during libation pouring where fowls and guinea fowls are slaughtered. It is not clear when the bird was domesticated but it is believed to be among the last of the birds to have been domesticated.
Guinea Fowl; Wonderful Bird
The scientific name for guinea fowl is ‘numida meleagris’. Dr. David Farrel, a known authority on the bird, said it is native to the west coast of the Sub-Sahara Africa and could also be found in India and Australia where it has a huge market but often kept for ornamental purposes.
He described the bird as having featherless heads with helmeted varieties. There are three common varieties of guinea fowl which include pearl, lavender and white. They start breeding in 35 weeks and average egg production is 55 to 100 per year weighing 37 to 40 g. The adults according to him weigh 1 kg and in northern Ghana, it could attract an average street value of GH¢15 to GH¢20 per one.
Dr. Farrel said guinea hens could be crossed with a domestic cockerel but the offspring are sterile. They are not good sitters and a domestic hen may be used instead or an artificial incubator at 37.20C. Keets (chicks) hatch out in 26 to 28 days and weigh 24 to 25 g. They need artificial heat for up to 6 weeks. It is difficult to determine their sex except by their call but as adults the helmet and wattles of the males are larger. They are either free range or housed and managed like meat chickens.
The guinea fowl is ready to eat at 14 weeks with a dressed weight of 800 g to well over 1 kg. The meat is very lean and breast meat yield is about 25% of live weight. One sensory evaluation indicated very little difference between chicken meat and guinea fowl meat. But this may depend on the diet as there are reports of a ‘gamey’ flavour. Their meat is darker than chicken meat. Little is known about their nutrient needs. There is a debate as to how many diet formulations they should receive to 8 weeks of age and how much energy and protein in the diets.
An academic piece carried out by the Pro Vice Chancellor of University for Development Studies, Professor Gabriel Teye of the Department of Animal Science showed that guinea fowl faced some constraints in some parts of the northern regions.
The survey which was carried out in some communities in Damango with a sample size of 35 farmers revealed that high keet mortality, difficulty in sexing and absence of source of quality day-old keet were common challenges. The study though suggest high demand for the meat and egg and mentioned lack of knowledge on the nutrient requirement, loss of birds and chicken by predators, worm infestation and taming of birds as other constraints to local rural farmers in rural guinea fowl farms.
SADA Guinea Fowl Project
In July 2012, President John Dramani Mahama, then the Vice President, launched the guinea fowl project in Sumbrungu in the Upper East Region.
During the launch, he said Asongtaba Cottage Industry (ACI) was partnering the Savannah Accelerated Development Authority (SADA) and the National Youth Employment Programme to embark on the project and extend it to the Upper West and Northern Regions. It is estimated to engage about 2000 youths not only in employment but to gain skills to enable them to competently rear the birds on their own farms.
A GNA report also quoted him as saying “Guinea-fowl is a delicacy in Europe. SADA will empower the rearing of Guinea-fowls in the Northern ecological zones to ensure that it becomes the leading exporter on the International market.”
Mr. Henry Kanga, Executive Director of Asongtaba Cottage Industry, said the project currently has close to 2,000 birds, a full scale project would soon take and a value chain approach would be adopted.
The industry would train the youth under the NYEP now known as the Ghana Youth Employment and Entrepreneurial Development Agency (GYEEDA) in various models including brooding, hatching, feathers, marketing, and sales, among others.
Alhaji Gilbert Seidu Iddi, the Chief Executive Officer of SADA was also of the view that the main thrust of the controversy surrounding the guinea fowl was just simple because SADA had just invested the GHGH¢15 million as shares to own 40 percent stake in the ACI. The dividends in such an investment do not take a day to gain but a considerable period and once SADA is a state entity, every citizen has an interest in the progress of that project.
Farmers and industry players recount interesting phenomena about the controversial guinea fowl. Mr. Kofi Grusi, a farmer who has been rearing the bird for several years, said there a high risks involved in its poultry farming noting that it is not easy to come by the eggs of guinea fowl in the market, thus making the price high.
He was of the view that the eggs are nutritious making consumers to compete with farmers who need them for hatching stressing that five eggs cost GH¢2.00 and one need about GH¢10.00 for hatching which takes 30 days. Oblivious of the risk of losing all the hundred keet after hatching, he suggested the need for more eggs in order to retain a desired number else one could lose all after hatching. He was of the view that SADA could make more impact on individual farmer’s lives with such laudable projects but appealed for the project to be extended to them.
A popular guinea fowl joint in the Tamale metropolis known as ‘Mba Yahaya’ has acclaimed high marks to the extent that it is jokily said a guy must buy ‘Mba Yahaya’ guinea fowl for a lady at least twice a week to confidently woo her heart and then appease her with the bird when there is a quarrel between them. The joint slaughters at least 50 guinea fowls daily and doubles that during festivities. It is a must stop joint for new entrants to the metropolis.
A former Director of the Ministry of food and Agriculture in the Northern Region, Mr. Sylvester Adongo, has just a phrase for guinea fowl business, ‘it is a fantastic venture’. He is of the view that the potential of the bird holds a major potential to leverage many poor farmers and urged stakeholders to invest more in the sector since the potential is less exploited.
The Missing Gaps
From expert opinion, guinea fowl investment demands as little capital as GH¢10, 000 to GH¢20, 000 and one could owe thousands of birds and make colossal profits and that means everything being equal.
So for SADA which is a poverty alleviator to have spent GH¢15 million might appear huge sums but when spread across some separate projects of guinea fowl funding, it may not be farfetched.
It is however necessary for SADA to give more details on the investment it is making in that direction in order to assure the country that the tax payers’ money is not being thrown to the gutters. It is a big challenge for SADA to turn the huge potential of guinea fowl in its ecological zone into advantage that will provide employment, income and a paradigm shift in development.
SADA is full of experts but the concern has been whether the available brains there could overcome the constraints and challenges of the industry such as predator attacks on the keet, difficulty in accessing day-old keets, worm infestations, difficulty in sexing and other constraints.
One major is there seems to be a mismatch in the fight against poverty using the SADA approach. Poverty alleviation would remain a mirage if local farmers are not assisted to own some of these projects and expand their incomes. The fight against poverty would have been meaningless and widen the gap between the rich and poor in northern Ghana and southern Ghana. The linkage of rural farmers to this guinea fowl project must be incorporated and must be gender sensitive since women too rear birds.
All investments have their timelines. The failure of SADA will be a doom to northern Ghana, no wonder many people have a vested interest in whatever it does because poverty has been walloping many homes and nothing should stop SADA to fulfill its mandate.
Lenses will endlessly monitor the activities of SADA to its logical conclusion and it is expected that SADA will one day export guinea fowl probably from the Tamale International Airport to the European markets.
By Paul Achonga Kwode