In Pakistan’s Punjab, big bird farms yield small dividends

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An ostrich seen through a glass wall at a shop on Lahore’s Ferozpur Road on February 2, 2019.
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An ostrich seen through a glass wall at a shop on Lahore’s Ferozpur Road on February 2, 2019.
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Mashooq Ali seen outside his ostrich meat shop on Lahore’s Ferozpur Road on February 2, 2019.
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An ostrich egg, weighing between 1200-1800 grams, seen at the Ostrich Research and Development Centre in Rawalpindi on February 10, 2019.
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Farmers decorate ostrich eggs before selling them at local markets. (February 10, 2019. Rawalpindi)
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The Ostrich Research and Development Centre in Rawalpindi is helping farmers extract and market ostrich oil. (February 10, 2019)
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Dr. Nasir Mukhtar, assistant professor at the Ostrich Research and Development Centre in Rawalpindi, holds an ostrich egg at his office on February 10, 2019.
Updated 01 April 2019

In Pakistan’s Punjab, big bird farms yield small dividends

  • Two years after the government announced a Rs14.5 subsidy for ostrich farmers, the business has failed to take off
  • Over-saturation of the market and government unwillingness to renew subsides has grounded the ostrich industry

LAHORE: It can outrun a horse and kick like a piston rod but at Mashooq Ali’s shop on Lahore’s sprawling Ferozpur Road, the lone ostrich can barely move or even spread its wings.
Ali bought the bird for Rs52,000 ($370) from a farm in Okara ten days ago . Since then, though patrons have thronged to his store for a glimpse of the African giant -- many marvelling at his magnificent size or tossing him things to eat -- there are few buyers.
Ostriches, the largest species of bird, were hunted for their meat, feathers and tough skin in the wild and now survive around the world mostly on special farms.
On average, a single ostrich can provide up to 33 kilograms of meat. The Punjab government’s fixed price per kilogramme is Rs1,300 ($9.5). A placard outside Ali’s shop announces that only large orders will be entertained.
“I cannot afford to make a loss by slaughtering it too early,” Ali told Arab News, pointing to the ostrich cowering in the corner of the shop and visible through a glass wall. “What if the rest [of the meat] doesn’t sell?”
Ali is one of hundreds of ostrich meat vendors in Pakistan’s richest and most populous province of Punjab, drawn to the business in 2017 when the provincial government granted a Rs14.5 million subsidy to farmers to breed and farm the birds. At the time, the government also promised to pay Rs10,000 per ostrich to those willing to rear between 25 to 100 chicks.
Initially, about a dozen farms cropped up in Punjab and ballooned to 275 in number. But two years later, despite government support and the best of intentions, the business has not taken off.
For many Pakistanis, ostrich meat is still as strange and exotic as it is expensive, so returns have been disappointingly low as supply has far outstripped demand. Also, hoping for high profit margins, farmers quickly jumped into the business without much knowledge of breeding practices., causing over-saturation of the market. This combined with the government’s unwillingness to renew subsides grounded the industry even before it could take off.  
This is bad news for a government that had envisioned replacing beef with ostrich meat, which many say tastes like beef but is low in fat and cholesterol, and planned to rear enough birds to export eggs, skin and feathers.
“Pakistan has been trying to establish this business for the last 20 years,” Dr. Nasir Mukhtar, assistant professor at the Ostrich Research and Development Centre in Rawalpindi, said. “But unfortunately each attempt has failed.”
The Centre was set up to facilitate farming and train farmers in rearing and breeding the birds.
According to the Centre, Pakistan first imported 53 ostriches in 2013. The number shot up to 3,000 last year. But a lack of funds has meant the Centre has had to freeze many of its research initiatives.
“We were moving to our second phase of development, which included seeing what different products can be made from ostrich skin,” Dr. Muhammad Talha Sajjad, a project director at the Centre, said. “But the new government has not authorised new subsidies or grants for the industry. This has put farmers under a lot of stress.”
Dr Asif Rafiq, communications director at the Punjab ministry of livestock, confirmed the government had withdrawn the subsidy but that the ministry was in talks with the farmers’ association about a new grant. Before the funds could be released, he said, the gap between demand and supply needed to be closed.
Colonel (r) Maqsood Qureshi, who invested Rs1.8 million to start an ostrich farm but failed to make a profit, said the large number of farmers who initially flocked to the business had over-saturated the market.
“Many of these farmers had no know-how on how to rear the birds,” Qureshi said.
Rafiq at the ministry of livestock agreed that a majority of the farmers had not bothered to study the birds, breeding practices or the market before investing. But the industry could still, perhaps, take off, he said.
One measure to bolster the industry was setting up an ostrich farm on the periphery of Lahore’s old city where meat would be sold even on the meatless days of Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
“We are working on launching a marketing campaign to promote the bird,” Rafiq said. “This time we need maximum results.”


Women hopeful as Pakistan parliamentary committee approves bill granting fathers paternal leave

Updated 30 October 2020

Women hopeful as Pakistan parliamentary committee approves bill granting fathers paternal leave

  • Parental leave bill was passed by Senate in January and will be voted by lawmakers in the coming weeks
  • The regulation will apply to all institutions in Islamabad if passed and pave the way for its nationwide implementation 

ISLAMABAD: Women lawmakers and activists said this week they welcomed approval by a National Assembly committee of a bill which would allow fathers to take one month of paid time off on the birth of a child.
The National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Law and Justice this week approved the parental leave bill which was passed by the upper house of parliament in January. Lawmakers are expected to vote on the law in the coming weeks.
About 90 out of 187 countries around the world now offer statutory paid paternity leave, usually for a few days or weeks.
“Extremely happy and immensely proud that this important bill moved by me in 2018 has finally been passed by the NA standing committee on Law and Justice after their passage from the Senate,” Senator Quratulain Marri from the opposition Pakistan People’s Party, who initiated the motion in the upper house, told Arab News on Thursday.
In accordance with the bill, she said, at the time of the birth of the first three children, “the mother will get six months, four months and three months leave respectively and the father will get 30 days each time.”
If passed, she said, the regulation would apply to all government and non-government institutions in Islamabad, and pave the way for it to be implemented nationwide.
“I am hoping that the provinces will replicate the same once it is passed from the National Assembly in the coming weeks,” Marri said. “This might not seem like a very big step at this point of time but I think it’s important to change the mindset and introduce the concept of paternity leave and father’s bonding with the child and will prove to be a very important step.”
The NA committee’s chairman, Riaz Fatyana, said the bill would allow fathers to look after their wives after childbirth.
“This will be a good opportunity for male parent, father, who can look after his newborn child and wife,” he told Arab News.
A parliamentarian from the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) party, Naureen Ibrahim, said if the regulation were passed, it would help men learn to share childcaring responsibilities with women.
“It will be beneficial especially for working women,” she said. “They will get longer leave and also the father will learn about sharing the responsibility of parenting. Fathers will also take care of the child and will realize the difficulties which are faced by wives.”
Women’s rights activist Farzana Bari said the new law would help change the mindset of childcare being an exclusively female responsibility.
“There has been a changing concept of masculinity in Pakistan in recent time,” she said. “Many young educated males have started sharing the responsibility of childcare and domestic work. It [new bill] will be very helpful for them.”