Friday, December 26, 2008

Nest Farming: Indonesia, Malaysia: 70% Failure, Philippines: 83% Success

Early this year (2008) I set as a personal goal to be the Philippines’ largest producer of farmed/cultured edible nests. This appeared to put a focus on my activities until I realized that there are no nest farms in the country, automatically making be the biggest – and the only – EBN farmer in the Philippines! I have heard anecdotes of houses with swiftlet colonies where nests are regularly harvested but I have not been able to confirm these reports.

At any rate, during an EBN conference I attended in Genting Highlands, Malaysia in 2005, among the most interesting pieces of information I came across was that the failure rate in the EBN farming industry was very high – around 67%! The 2007 Malaysian Industry report further confirms this and even provides several explanations for this phenomenon.

To my mind, this data confirms one thing – that EBN farming is very lucrative. So lucrative that many entrepreneurs plunge into the business with very little knowledge about the technology involved. In Indonesia and Malaysia, the number of nest farms has expanded faster than the bird population. But even in Indonesia where the technology was developed, the failure rate remains high.
In 2005 I enlisted an Indonesian consultant (my second consultant, the first being a couple of Malaysians in 2004) to assess the local environment. He concluded that our environment could support a large swiftlet population. The Malaysians, who visited Palawan, conducted several sound tests with disappointing results. They concluded that the local swiftlet population, at least in Palawan, was “severely depleted”.

Early in 2006, unfazed by this knowledge, I build my first two nest farm structures in Southern Mindanao applying technology learned from Indonesia and Malaysia. The structures, excluding the cost of real estate, costs between P250-P300 thousand each. My design proved effective, at least insofar as maintaining the internal temperature lower than the outside temperature without the use of any equipment.

Figure 1. Pilot farm in Davao del Sur. Open space between ceiling and roof limits the radiation of heat into the nesting area inside the structure. Roof is nipa; walls are cement board.

My site selection was based on two criteria: First, from observation I believed that these areas were swift habitats and, second, I would not spend for the cost of the real estate.

It took 18 months before I saw my first nest and in only one farm – in November 2007. No attracting technology was used. No sounds, aroma, etc. Today, December 2008, more than twelve months after, this farm has 20 nests. The other farm remains empty. The nests, by the way, are esculenta or grass, nests.

A successful farm should produce nests of sufficient quantity to recover the investment within a reasonable period of time, say, three to five years. Therefore, to recover my cost I need to produce 1.25 kilos of white nest per year within five years, and since I only have 20 grass nests (although the colony increase should be geometric, not linear) I would be a doddering, geriatric case before I harvest my first kilo of white nests! It was time to shift strategy.

To be continued.....

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