Cavies (aka guinea pigs) in a special pig pantry off the side of a kitchen in Peru (photo on Flickr by Emile Hardman/QuintanaRoo).
Could guinea pigs be a new protein source in Africa? In a special report on ‘Solutions for a hungry world’ by AlertNet, Emma Batha describes how the raising of guinea pigs (Cavia porcellus), also called ‘cavies’ (in Spanish, cuyo), a traditional food of Andean tribes, is taking hold in Africa. (Despite their common name, guinea pigs are not in the pig family and not from Guinea.)
‘. . . Researchers working on a livestock project in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) three years ago were astonished to find families keeping the rodents, also known as cavies.
I was very surprised to see them,” said Brigitte Maass, a scientist with the International Center for Tropical Agriculture. “We’re not sure how or when they got to DRC, but they have enormous potential to boost nutrition and improve rural livelihoods.
‘She said cavies could provide a great source of cheap protein in DRC, which has some of the highest rates of malnutrition in the world. The lean white meat is around 20 percent protein, more than beef or lamb, and the skin is more than 30 percent protein.
‘Researchers believe the fighting that has ravaged the east of the country for well over a decade may have encouraged people to breed the small animals as larger livestock are often looted. Cavies are easy to hide and light to carry if people are forced to flee their homes.
‘“In many, many communities cavies were the only animal that people kept for providing protein and also some limited income,” said Appolinaire Djikeng, a scientist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), who is leading the cavy research project. “They were mobile banks, as people referred to them.”
‘Djikeng said cavies had several advantages over larger livestock for poor households. You don’t need much investment to start breeding them and you don’t need land—most are kept indoors, which may explain why they have been almost invisible until now.
‘Cavies can survive on kitchen waste, so unlike grain-fed livestock they do not compete with humans for food. They reproduce quickly, with females giving birth to 10–15 young a year.
‘And there are no big threats from diseases as there are with poultry. Farmers also say their droppings make very good manure for crops.
‘“Cavies could have a significant role in improving food security in poor communities across Africa,” Djikeng said. “They are recognised as an important player for driving people out of poverty.” . . .
‘In Africa, cavies are predominantly kept by women and children and provide an important source of income for them. Children often use the animals to pay for school fees.
‘In Tanzania, Maass said the animal’s small size and ease of handling made them popular in households headed by children who have lost their parents to HIV/AIDS.
‘Scientists are now trying to map the genetic diversity of cavy populations in Africa with a view to establishing breeding programmes. At the moment, farmers report a lot of inbreeding which in turn causes high mortality rates, Djikeng told AlertNet by phone from Nairobi. . . .
There is now significant recognition that not everyone will own cows, goats or sheep,” Djikeng said. “But people can quickly own these other animals, which to some extent will provide them access to income and nutritious food.”
‘Djikeng said they were helping Cameroon set up a Cavy Innovation Platform to encourage cavy production and share information. The forum will include policymakers, universities, agricultural research institutes, non-governmental organisations and farmers’ associations as well as hotel and restaurant entrepreneurs who can promote cavy dishes.
‘They plan to set up a similar platform in DRC in the coming weeks and eventually establish them in other countries.’
Read the whole article at AlertNet: Could guinea pigs be a new protein source in Africa?, 2 May 2012.