‘Valuable treasure’: Gaza turns to quail as fishing goes belly up

As the 14-year Israeli blockade continues to inflict hardship, Palestinians in the coastal enclave are finding innovative sources of income.

The low price of quail has made it more in demand than chicken for local consumers [Ashraf Amra/Al Jazeera]

Khan Younis, Gaza Strip – Some people here are finding creative new ways to earn a living in the face of high unemployment that is destroying the present and future of many.

Ibrahim Abu Odeh, 34, from the city of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, is one of them. Refusing to lose hope even as unemployment reached nearly 50 percent, he started the first quail farm in the besieged coastal enclave.

Hunting migrating quail on their way from the freezing climes of Europe to the warmth of the Middle East has become a vital source of income for many unemployed people in Gaza who sell them in local markets to make ends meet.

Abu Odeh was looking further ahead, however, and instead bought some quail eggs from hunters five years ago and began raising the birds in a few cages on the roof of his family’s house.

Ibrahim Abu Odeh buys eggs from quail hunters and raises them in a hatchery [Ashraf Amra/Al Jazeera]

“Then the work expanded, the demand increased, so I decided to rent a small piece of land near the house to raise more quail,” he told Al Jazeera.

“I gain a profit of about $500 per month, which is supporting me to feed my four children and fund my master’s degree, as I’m finally preparing my thesis in accounting from the Islamic University of Gaza.”

It was not always smooth sailing – Abu Odeh said it took time to figure out how to raise the birds and there had been some setbacks.

“When I bought the first 1,000 eggs, half of the newborn birds died. I learned from YouTube channels and websites the principles of raising the quail, so I overcame these obstacles,” he said.

“I buy the eggs from the quail hunters, then I put them in the hatchery and after 18 days the newborn quail is produced. The sale of quail is very demanded by Gaza residents for its low price and its good food value,” he said.

“When the new bird’s weight reaches 250 grams, I sell it for 2.5 Israeli shekels [80 US cents].”

Abu Odeh’s farm raises about 16,000 thousand birds a month, which are sold in the local market.

He and his 66-year-old father, Nasser, take care of the birds either in person on the farm or remotely through their mobile phones connected to surveillance cameras.

Quail hunters retrieve birds caught along a beach after their long flight from Europe [Ashraf Amra/Al Jazeera]

Rising unemployment

Gaza has been under an Israeli blockade for 14 years, severely restricting economic activity, especially fishing which used to be a major source of income for Palestinians in Gaza.

Now, the fishing nets are being hung between wooden poles along the shore, allowing the “quail hunters” to catch the migrating birds as they arrive from Europe.

According to a report published by the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor in January 2021, the unemployment rate in Gaza Strip jumped to 56 percent after 14 years of the Israeli blockade of Gaza, compared to 40 percent in 2005.

Abu Odeh’s father, Nasser, is one of the people who had to stop fishing as a result of the Israeli siege.

“The quail-breeding project has provided me with a source of income … the Israeli sea restrictions and the bans on importing new boats and fishing material have destroyed the fishery industry,” he said.

Even though they no longer fish, the family still faces major challenges because of the blockade.

“The biggest challenge is the electricity outage for more than 16 hours per day, so I installed a solar energy system to decrease the operational cost of using fuel for lightening. In addition, the price of feed has steadily increased,” said Abu Odeh.

Nasser Abu Odeh tends to his livestock [Ashraf Amra/Al Jazeera]

Vital food source

Salim Nassar, a livestock trader, said the low price of quail has made it more in demand than chicken for local consumers.

“Quail is easy to raise and does not need a lot of space and its reproduction is rapid in addition to being less diseased,” said Abdul Fattah Abd Rabbo, associate professor of environmental sciences at the Islamic University of Gaza’s biology department.

He added: “Its prices are low and satisfies a large segment of the population of the Gaza Strip as they live in difficult economic conditions.”

Abd Rabbo told Al Jazeera the small birds breed in Europe in the summer then migrate in the autumn to Africa and Asia.

They are proving to be a vital food source in the enclave where more than 68 percent of households, or about 1.3 million people, are severely or moderately food insecure, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA.

By 2017, the PCBS reported that the poverty rate in Gaza had reached nearly 60 percent with severe poverty at more than 42 percent.

Ibrahim Abu Odeh says it took time to learn how to raise the birds and there were some stumbles [Ashraf Amra/Al Jazeera]

‘Valuable treasure’

Abdullah Jamal, 31, is a sports education graduate from Gaza City. He could not find a job after graduating so he started hunting quail.

“At the beginning of September each year, I put my nets out in the early hours on wooden pegs on the beach and wait until we catch the birds coming from Europe as they arrive tired on the seashore to rest,” said Jamal.

“The season of bird migration is a valuable treasure for us as it is a temporary source of income for the two months of September and October.”

He says he normally catches 10 to 20 birds a day and sells them quickly, with the quail fetching prices of 15-25 Israeli shekels ($4.50-$7.60) depending on their size.

“It’s a good seasonal job opportunity given the scarcity of work in the Strip, and we are eagerly awaiting the next season,” said Jamal.

The small birds breed in Europe in the summer then migrate in the autumn to Africa and Asia [Ashraf Amra/Al Jazeera]
Source: Al Jazeera