7 June 2014

Kenya: How One Woman Lost Cash in Quail Bubble

In December 2013, Josephine heard people were making money rearing quails. Those in the know said that a young quail, was going for at least Sh250. Even better, a single egg cost over Sh100.

Josephine promptly decided she also wanted a piece of this pie. In 2012, Josephine had made some Sh50,000 selling tomatoes and cauliflowers. She withdrew all this money and bought two hundred birds.

She went ahead and took a short term loan of a similar amount, part of which she used to construct sheds, buy feed, brooding lights, vitamin concentrates, medication and vaccinations for her quails. In less than six months, she would be making big money.

In business, as in life, there is often a very big difference between plan and reality. In fact, one English proverb says, "There is many a slip twixt the cup and the lip."

Josephine knew there would be challenges along the way, and she was well prepared. She had set aside a contingency fund to deal with such unforeseen eventualities as disease outbreaks and sharp increases in the cost of animal feed.

Thankfully, it was relatively smooth-sailing as her quails grew. No diseases. No unexpected costs. No stress. At this time, Josephine bought an additional 100 birds.

In early 2014, the media in Kenya ran some investigative journalism pieces on major TV stations, that questioned among other things, the health benefits of quail eggs.

These features elicited public debate as expected, and both radio and television stations were soon inundated with so-called experts who went further and cast aspersions on the viability of the quail market.

With increased scrutiny, it became clear that quail eggs are overrated, both in terms of the price and the health benefits. Also, the birds are not reared in an organic environment.

As such, they are fed on regular layers mash. Always locked up in cages, they are not free-range birds that are often healthier. This naturally had an effect on the masses, and the seemingly insatiable appetite for quail eggs and meat started waning.

Josephine was ill-prepared for this new reality. The price of quail eggs was fast falling from a high of Sh200 to less than a hundred. And it kept falling with lower demand.

By the time Josephine's quails started laying eggs, an egg was going for Sh50 in select markets, and this price was not even guaranteed. The market was also flooded, since every enterprising person who aspired for quick money had set up a quail farm.

There were stories of guys who had taken loans and were now losing land, cars and other property. When the best price one quail egg could fetch became just under Sh10, Josephine realised that the bubble had inevitably burst. She was yet to break even.

In fact, the cost of chasing after elusive markets was bearing heavily on her, both financially and emotionally. She now found it hard to even feed the birds.

Every time she walked into the shed, she was heart broken. As expected, the birds were laying eggs but with no sales, she started gradually reducing the rations.

Barely a month after effecting various cost-cutting measures, Josephine walked in one morning to find several birds dead. Many others were unwell. Before sunset, over a dozen more were dead. The next morning, she collected over 20 dead birds.

This was now too much to bear. To avoid further losses, Josephine finally did the one thing she considered the most humane send-off for her quails. She opened the doors and set all the birds free. Some died of hunger, others were devoured by cats and dogs. Birds of prey ate the rest.

Josephine learned her biggest and most costly lesson in this latest fad - quail farming, having fallen for it hook, line and sinker. When the deal is too good, think twice.

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