Monday, July 27, 2009

Propagating high value economy on the wings of swiftlets

THE local birds’ nest industry is relatively under-explored although there are already enterprising individuals venturing into this exotic delicacy business largely for export.
Birds’ nest, produced by the edible-nest swiftlets (apodiformes), are sought after for their nutritional and medicinal values by gastronomes in countries such as China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and Asia Pacific.

No doubt, the initial foray into rearing these swiftlet birds in Sarawak has been prompted by the realisation that the nests they make hold commercial promise. The feasibility prognosis is rosy although it makes good economic sense for intending investors – despite the attractive prospects – to do further study and research on the best way to develop the industry against the backdrop of a global economic crisis.

At present, commercial swiftlet farming – as opposed to collecting the nests in pristine crevices and caverns – is carried out mostly in private dwellings or abandoned properties.
This is, at best, only a makeshift pathway. Moving beyond the piece-meal structure, properly designated localities away from population centres, housing estates or commercial areas could perhaps be considered.

As the birds’ nest industry is a potential moneyspinner, its development should be not laissez-faire but supported by effective regulations and supervision. With the right impetus, the industry can earn additional foreign exchange from countries which are traditionally major consumers of the product.

Recently, the local authorities launched a crackdown on some establishments engaged in swiftlet farming around urban settings, especially in Mukah and Sibu.

As pioneers of swiftlet-rearing in the country have suggested, what is required now is enlightening (through education) all the parties involved – investors, farmers, politicians and licence-approving authorities – on the dos and don’ts of the business.

In some countries in the region, birds’ nest production has already been commercialised in a big way and production houses are even teaching the modus operandi to prospective investors.
Supporting facilities could also be configured to breed swiftlets through a captive breeding programme, involving commercialised scientific farming methods, specialised apparatus, mechanisms and techniques.

Other requisites are managed sustainable harvesting of nests, provision of a secure nesting habitat and conducive environment to maximise avian population by minimising mortality rates, and safe collection of nests by means of mechanised lifting systems and specialist mountaineering equipment.

Hopefully, the existing birds’ nest farmers will work more closely with the local authorities to ensure the smooth development of the industry through the most appropriate avenues, respecting the privacy of citizens in localities where such operation is being undertaken.

In an effort to prop up the shaky economy, newly-appointed Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak previously said it was imperative to match the market principle of adding value with a high value economy. He specially mentioned the lucrative birds’ nest industry as one high value economy concept that could be taken up by entrepreneurs. The other two are seaweed and ornamental fish enterprises.

PM also said the birds’ nest enterprise could be carried out on idle land, especially in the east coast of the peninsula. While his statement, which came on the heels of the swiftlet farming crackdown in Sarawak, did not touch on the fledging industry in the state, the implication was quite clear – that other states with a history of birds’ nest production should consider exploiting the potential of the industry by embracing the high value economy concept.

Indeed, we should tap further into and promote the sustainable use of this agricultural resource – edible birds’ nests – in the same manner as rubber and palm oil for the benefit of the country’s economy. It has to be borne in mind too that bird’s nest can be exported either in raw or finished form and that the industry can create more jobs, apart from bringing in more foreign exchange earnings.

Source from Borneo Post.

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