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.”


FM Qureshi holds meeting with UAE state minister, discusses bilateral cooperation

Updated 28 November 2020

FM Qureshi holds meeting with UAE state minister, discusses bilateral cooperation

  • The Pakistani foreign minister highlighted close fraternal ties and stressed his country’s commitment to closer bilateral cooperation
  • UAE Minister of State Reem Al Hashimi appreciated Qureshi’s proposal to the OIC to focus on the menace of Islamophobia

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi met United Arab Emirates Minister of State Reem Al Hashimi on the sidelines of the OIC’s Council of Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Niamey, Niger, on Saturday.
During their meeting, the two leaders exchanged views on bilateral cooperation, COVID-19 situation, Pakistan’s participation in an Expo arranged by the UAE, and other matters of mutual interest.
Qureshi highlighted the close fraternal ties and people-to-people contacts between the two countries and stressed Pakistan’s commitment to forge closer cooperation with the UAE in diverse fields.
According to an official handout circulated by the foreign office of Pakistan, the Emirati state minister lauded Qureshi’s speech at the Niger meeting in which he proposed the OIC to deal with the menace of Islamophobia.
“Apprising the Emirati Minister of State of the difficulties being faced by Pakistani citizens with regard to UAE visa, Foreign Minister Qureshi underscored the need to address the issue at the earliest possible,” said the official statement. “The two sides also exchanged views on OIC matters and stressed the importance of further strengthening it as a united and pivotal platform for the Muslim Ummah.”
It was also agreed during the meeting to enhance mutual exchanges to carry forward the process of growing bilateral cooperation.