PUNJAB has failed to promote ostrich farming despite placing it under the livestock head some five years ago. All those who dared into ostrich farming are now licking their financial wounds.
Currently, the country has around 70 farms but none of them has more than a few birds — that too for recreational purposes, taking it as a zoo bird.
On the other hand, the Food and Agriculture Organisation thinks ostrich is the bird for the next millennium that could help ensure food and protein security in most parts of the globe, especially where pork is not consumed. Pakistan is still to wake up to ostrich potential.
Ostrich is still not placed in livestock category and any attempt to export the bird or its products attracts heavy fines.
The participants at a recent meeting were of the view that Punjab alone cannot promote ostrich farming as it involves imports and exports, which come under the Customs Department and the Federal Board of Revenue, where it is still categorised as a wildlife specie and cannot be slaughtered.
In the case of ostrich, meat is a by-product; its skin and feathers are the major merchandises — for its usage in highly expensive ladies’ bags and other products — and so is sebum that is used for waterproofing of high-end vehicles. All of these needs to be exported.
Its eggs and breeders have to be imported. Ostrich is still not placed in livestock category and any attempt to export these products attracts heavy fines.
Hamid Jaleel, an expert on the subject, says ostrich multiplies 200 times faster than cattle and buffalo; it lays around 150 eggs a year and its chicks weigh 100Kg within a year. Compare it with one calf of cattle or buffalo every two years and it gaining 150kg in next one year.
According to a chart presented at the meeting, the ostrich meat has low cholesterol content, has almost the same protein, calories and iron levels as other mono-gastric (chicken, turkey, duck etc) sources do and sells at $8-12/kg in international market — making it the most attractive option for farming, especially for export.
The participants noted that since mortality rate is very high (up to 80pc chick die in first 100 days), only few daring farmers would take the risk on their own. These deaths are also caused by absence of any vaccine coverage and know-how about rearing it in best possible way — the extension service are completely missing.
The government has to put in place a mechanism which can guide the potential farmers in importing the parent flock and their genetic footprints and also help them financially in the initial stage. In poultry, the farmer gets his return after 36 days In fisheries, this time lag is eight months. But in case of ostrich, it would take at least 14 months. This is where the government needs to find its role, helping farmers initially to survive the risks of first 14 months.
It also needs to involve the private sector from import of chicks to raising these birds to export of all its products. To begin with, the focus has to be on a business model that is mainly export-driven.
The very high price of meat — it sells at around Rs1,500/kg and demand is mainly restricted to five-star hotels — makes it a highly lucrative business proposition. Its demand in the global market is high and set to rise.