A guinea pigs farmer at 75 years, Rose Wanja Macharia of Kahuru village in Nyeri, says she does not lose sleep over what people say about her love for the tiny animals.
What she does is a surprise to many, but, like the world’s richest man Jeff Bezos says on innovation and entrepreneurship, one should be ready to be misunderstood.
“I advise everybody to never stop what they are doing for a living because of others’ opinions. If the venture is a lucrative business, you better continue,” Ms Macharia told Enterprise. Daily, she hosts curious visitors who stream to her home with questions about these animals.
Opinion is divided one whether she should continue or stop. But for Ms Macharia, the business is guinea pigs; she has been at it for 10 years and only wishes she had expert advice on growth.
“I have never regretted keeping guinea pigs despite the cold reception and stigma from a section of friends and relatives,” she says.
Ms Macharia is ahead of the pack, since the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) is yet to come up with rules on keeping the animals that are used in research, are eaten, or kept as pets. KWS Mt Kenya region senior warden Catherine Wambani says the agency is collecting data on rules of keeping the animal.
Individuals, universities, colleges and secondary schools buy from her. Karatina University “is my notable client,” she said, without revealing how many they are buy, after how long, and at what price.
She sells a mature guinea pig at Sh500; currently she has 20. “Guinea pig has very sweet meat. You know, the smaller the animal the sweeter and tastier is its meat.”
They have not been embraced by restaurants in Kenya, but they are a cuisine in other countries like Peru.
“Initially I was doing the normal farming of crops like maize, beans, chickens and rabbits as well as tea which had little income and I could not have a coin in my pocket. I was a poor woman.” She was introduced to the rodents by a fellow farmer, Muriithi Kimotho, who lives in Kagumo, Kirinyaga County.
Poor record keeping, attacks by dogs and cats, inbreeding, and “mysterious diseases” that kill are some of the challenges in the business. However, agriculture officers have noted her commitment and are advising her on what to do.
In Nyeri County, she is known as Cucu wa tunyiri (the grandmother of guinea pigs).
According to Live Science, guinea pigs are domesticated rodents and originally from South America. Their gestation period is between 59 and 72 days and give birth to litters of three or four, but can have as many as 13.
They are fully mature in two to three months, says the website.