What is Swiftlet Farming?
Updated on July 30th, 2012
Swiftlet farming refers to the harvesting of edible bird’s nests from man-made swiftlet habitats – also called swiftlet farms.
How this term “swiftlet farming” was coined is uncertain, but this term has become a popular term used by people in the swiftlet farming industry. To the uninitiated, the term “swiftlet farming” may spike confusion that it is a business of farming or domesticating swiftlet to be reared in a confined space like chickens in a chicken coop.
This is far from the truth as swiftlets cannot be domesticated, some have tried to confine these birds in an enclosed area, only to fail miserably in their swiftlet farming business. The idea of swiftlet farming is not to actually raise these birds for sale, but for their nests, which is highly sought after especially by the Chinese.
The swiftlet nest, or commonly called bird’s nest, is a Chinese delicacy since the Tang Dynasty of China (618 – 907 A.D.). The nests are simmered with broth into bird’s nest soup.
What You Should Know About Swiftlet Farming
Before the 20th century, most of the swiftlet nests were harvested from the swiftlets’ natural habitats – caves in mountains. Deforestation, pollution, uncontrolled harvesting and other adversities has threatened the survival of swiftlets in natural caves. In order to find food and procreate, some of these swiftlets moved out of their caves and moved into old abandoned houses.
The pioneers of the swiftlet farming industry, some 100 – 150 years ago, discovered the possibility of catering “housing” for swiftlets and initiated the start of modern swifltlet farming technology.
At first, the pioneers discovered what works and what fails through trial and error. Any success would almost guarantee a constant stream of income for the whole family. Within each household, the knowledge was passed from generations to generations, and were never disclosed to anyone outside their circle of trust. Hence, in the early days, the knowledge for swiftlet farming is a well-kept secret.
However, this has changed.
In the 1980s, the swiftlet farming methodology has taken a new phase. Never before did swiftlet farmers and researchers congregate together to exchange ideas about successful swiftlet farming methods and used scientific research to validate or improve these methods. Only since then, swiftlet farming was accessible to the outside community who would like to invest in this golden opportunity.
In the modern technology for swiftlet farming, swiftlet farming involves:
(a) the design and construction of suitable buildings or farms for swiftlets;
(b) the scientific methods used to attract swiftlets to bear their offsprings into these farms and;
(c) the harvesting of birds’ nest in accordance to a specified routine and methods to optimize bird nest production and profits.
Why Swiftlet Farming?
The sale of edible swiftlet nests is a lucarative and high profit-potential business.
In 2010, raw bird’s nest sells at about US$1000 – US$1500 per kg, while processed bird’s nest (with impurities removed) sells 3-5 times higher at about US$3000 – US$7000.
Based on Chinese Customs data, China imported directly from Malaysia 0.379 tons of bird’s nests in 2008, 6.218 tons in 2009 and 8.689 tons in 2010. However, from other sources, it was claimed that about 100 tons of nests were imported into China in 2010.
The Malaysian swiftlet farming industry saw its down in July 2011, when China puts a temporary ban to the import of swiftlet nests, in response to a high concentration of nitrite beyond safety levels found in its imported nests. The ban on Malaysian bird’s nest caused the price to plummet in late 2011 and 2012. A kilogram of bird’s nest is about US$500 – US$600.
Nonetheless, the swiftlet farming industry remains optimistic while would-be investors take a passive stance by watching the situation tightly.
Malaysian authorities had been talking to China to lift the ban. In early Apr 2012, China has agreed to lift the ban on Malaysian bird’s nests on the condition that the nitrite level remains within 34 parts per million (ppm), a standard level allowed by the World Health Organization.
Talks with China are still underway as China imposed an additional condition requiring Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) certificate for all imports. As soon as both countries comes to an agreement, the swiftlet farming industry will start to recover quickly.
Where Do We Find Suitable Areas for Swiftlet Farming?
Swiftlets that produces the edible swiftlets are found mainly in Southeast Asia, but they span from Indonesia to Hainan island in China as well as parts of the Philippines.
There are a total of 24 swiftlet species, but only 3 species produces edible bird’s nests, namely the Aerodramus Fuciphagus (white nest swiftlet), Aerdramus Maximus (black nest swiftlet) and Collocalia.
Bird’s nests from the White-nest swiftlets are most valuable and they are concentrated in Indonesia and Malaysia. As Indonesia has strict laws against foreigner buying land in the country, many foreign investors has turned to Malaysia for their swiftlet farming investments.