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New Business Ideas No. 10: Taking a new approach to "birdsnest"
by Murray Hunter
2014-01-23 11:01:31
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The ‘bird's nest’ industry has grown rapidly across South-East Asia, making those ‘lucky’ very rich with the lucrative prices Chinese customers have been willing to pay over the last few decades. A number of various types of swiftlets found in Africa, the Indian sub-continent, and across Asia produce a bird’s nest that is edible. “Birdsnest’ is created from bird saliva to build a shell to protect swiftlet eggs during nesting. This ‘bird's nest’ is a Chinese delicacy used in soups and sweets, and as a medicine, particularly in wealthy coastal China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Folklore would have it that ‘bird's nest’ helps to reduce the symptoms of asthma and chronic coughs, where the ‘special’ trace elements of the product have curing properties for a number of diseases.


Conventionally, those involved in farming swiftlets must spend hundreds of thousands of dollars renovating existing buildings, or building massive ‘swiftlet condos’. They use recordings of swiftlet song to attract the birds to their ‘condos’ and once they nest, collect the ‘bird's nest’ and process them for export.  Approximately 3 out of 10 bird condos are successful, in this industry now worth more than USD 4 billion dollars.


However you don’t have to be a millionaire to get into this business. Consultants will tell you that this is needed, that is needed, where they are also usually the supplier. But a simple small size house can be built using ferrocement and mud and sand, with a little bit of cement, using chicken wire and wood as the supporting structure. This could be build for under RM 20K in a back yard or rural area. This is certainly much cheaper than some of the existing bird condos that can cost even up to RM 1million. With you little ferrocement birds house you may be able to collect up to 10 kg of ‘bird's nest’ per month which could bring in excess of RM20 K income per month, once your house has been settled with swiftlets.


The marketing of ‘bird's nest’ is full of mysterious middlemen who only deal in cash without any fixed address in some cases. You maybe better using your own ‘bird's nest’ in products that add value to the crude ‘bird's nest’. Thailand for example produces much of its ‘bird's nest’ for the domestic market where people like to consume ‘bird's nest’ like they do the old essence of chicken. This product is considered both a health and energy drink by the Thais.

You could decide to make handmade chocolate using ‘bird's nest’ as a major ingredient. Just imagine how much beautifully packed ‘bird's nest’ chocolate could be sold at a duty free store at a major airport just before flights leave for China. ‘Bird's nest’ chocolate could be a big hit.


One enterprising entrepreneur in Sabah, Borneo crushes the ‘bird's nest’ and produces capsules which sell for a few dollars each. ‘Bird's nest’ can already be seen in some beverages in Malaysia, but there is still a long way to go in the potential number of products ‘bird's nest’ could be used in. There is plenty for room for value to be added with ‘bird's nest’ food and beverage ideas.

You don’t have to be a millionaire to get into the ‘bird's nest’ industry. In Africa swiftlet farming still has a long way to grow, and there is now much easier access to the China market. In Asia, the future of swiftlet farming will depend more upon the development of products for domestic consumption, than export, and low cost farming techniques like the ferrocement mud houses will drastically lower entry costs.

Swiftlet farming and ‘bird's nest’ production requires a moderate capital commitment with some risk, but promises big returns. The idea is better suited to those in rural areas, although there is no reason the ferrocement concept can’t be utilized in urban environments. With the right approach, there is still money to be made in ‘bird's nest’, particularly with innovative low cost production techniques and adding value through new product ideas. You may be interested in the farming aspects which may be a great income supplement in a rural environment, or the production of new products like exclusive handmade chocolates that will attract premium prices in the Chinese market.



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