SWIFTLET farming is mushrooming all over the state, especially in Sibu, and there are still no clear-cut guidelines from the authorities.
Industry players conservatively estimate that at least three units of bird houses are constructed daily in Sarawak, making the state one of the fastest growing centres for swiftlet farming in Malaysia.
There are some 3,000 bird houses in the state.
Many rural farmers and fishermen are now shifting to swiftlet farming in the central and coastal areas of Sarawak as traditional farming is becoming more difficult with prices of fertilisers and insecticides getting expensive. Marine resources are also getting scarce.
In the urban areas, especially Sibu, Mukah, Bintangor and Sarikei, many unoccupied and under-utilised shophouses and residential units have been converted into bird houses.
In Bintangor, for instance, a block of two units of semi-detached houses costing more than RM500,000 was recently converted into a bird house to rear swiftlets.
Although swiftlet farming on a commercial scale is a relatively new industry, it has attracted many investors, among individuals and companies.
Many professionals like doctors and engineers are already investing in this business. What attracts people into this venture is that it is lucrative and ensures fast returns. On top of that, it is not labour-intensive.
A bird house may cost anywhere from a few thousand ringgit to more than a million ringgit, depending on the location and its size. If it is professionally managed by experienced people, the returns are fast and investors can reap the fruits of their money within three to five years.
The price of unprocessed bird’s nest has been quite stable in recent years, with one kilogramme selling at between RM4,000 and RM6,000 while processed bird’s nest could fetch up to RM15,000 a kilogramme.
Malaysia is currently the world’s third largest producer and exporter of edible bird’s nest, after Indonesia and Thailand. The 2009 export value was in excess of RM1bil.
The Federal Government is optimistic that by 2020, Malaysia’s bird’s nest export value will reach RM5bil annually with Sarawak alone contributing RM2bil.
However, under the 1998 Wildlife Protection Ordinance, swiftlet farming is not permitted in towns and residential areas.
Swiftlet farmers are required to apply for licences to breed the birds in agricultural areas in the outskirts.
In addition, the two of the swiftlet species — aerodramus fuciphagus and aerodramus maximus — which produce the edible bird’s nests are protected animals.
Last year, the Sarawak Forestry Corporation Sdn Bhd (SFC) which has been tasked with stopping the rapid growth of illegal bird houses, carried out raids on structures built in shophouses.
Subsequently, swiftlet farmers and merchant associations held several dialogues with SFC. It now appears that the situation is back to square one, with the swiftlet farmers continuing to rear the birds in shophouses and residential areas.
A committee member of the Sarawak Birdnest’s Suppliers Association (SBSA) said the organisation was hopeful that the long-awaited national guidelines for swiftlet farming would be passed during the current Parliament sitting.
“It will be good news for all Sarawak swiftlet farmers if the national guidelines come into force,” he said.