Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Penang swiflet industry needs a proper nest

Penang swiflet industry needs a proper nest

Published: 2010/07/21
As Penang celebrates its month-long George Town Heritage Festival to commemorate the second year of the city's listing as a Unesco World Heritage site, the issue of swiflet farming hovers over the heads of its authorities.

Malaysia is currently looking at implementing the Swiflet Industry Guidelines for bird's nest harvesters to turn the business into a RM5 billion industry by 2020.  The issue being faced in George Town currently is that the swiflet industry is co-existing along residents and businesses of the historic inner city.  So-called "restored" shophouses are said to be fronts of swiflet farms, since swiflet farmers are believed to prefer buying or renting properties in George Town, than locate their operations in an agricultural area.

The hardened nests made up of swiflet saliva have been a delicacy treasured by the Chinese for centuries. The global market for bird's nest is said to be worth billions of ringgit.  Because of the head-start it had about two decades ago in swiflet farming on a commercial scale, Indonesia supplies between 70 per cent and 80 per cent of the delicacy consumed worldwide, mainly in Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, Macau, Singapore and North America. In 2008, the bird's nest industry was worth RM1 billion with unpackaged bird's nest fetching up to RM7,000 per kg.

Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Noh Omar had recently said the guidelines for swiflet farming were aimed at reducing red tape by making licensing easier.  He said the Department of Veterinary Services, which prepared the guidelines, were simplifying the process of obtaining approvals with the Health Ministry, Department of Environment, Wildlife and National parks Department, Farmers' Organisation Authority and local authorities.

Among others, Noh said the guidelines encompassed the good husbandry practices, good manufacturing practice and edible bird's nest certification. They also cover import and export approvals, coordination by the department of city and town planning, registration and licensing.

George Town is currently home to an estimated 300 swiflet farms, which are said to be operating out of shophouses. The majority of these operators are believed to not have any licences to operate the business in the city.

The state authorities are now being asked to move fast to prevent further noise, smell, property damage and unsanitary conditions, which are now associated when swiflet farms over shophouses in George Town.

All it takes now is for a special area or zone to be designated for swiftlet operations and allow the industry to soar and rake in the high investments it is touted to yield.

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