Len: Bird’s nest industry up for stricter regulation

Datu Len Talif Salleh

KUCHING: Foreseeing that more swiftlet farms will be mushrooming, especially in urban areas, due to the booming price of bird’s nests, Assistant Minister of Urban Planning, Land Administration and Environment Datu Len Talif Salleh said actions will be taken against the owners before the situation gets out of control.

Len said it has been the state government’s policy to encourage swiftlet farming but the industry had to be regulated so that it would not pose any negative impact on the general public such as the threat of avian flu.

“The price of bird’s nests is picking up again. We foresee that the industry players will be setting up more swiftlet farms in urban areas. Things will go from bad to worse if we don’t do anything now.

“I will instruct the state Forest Department to work with the Land and Survey Department as well as the local councils to enforce the Wildlife Protection Rules, 1998,” Len told The Borneo Post yesterday.

With higher demand and lower supply after the lifting of the ban by China, the bird’s nest industry is experiencing a boom now. A kilogramme of untreated bird’s nests now fetches RM3,000 to RM3,200, and treated ones, RM4,000 to RM6,000.

Though it is probibited to set up swiftlet farms in urban centres, the rules are not taken seriously by many businessmen.

The Borneo Post Adventure Team (BAT) was on the road from Kuching to Marudi and back from June 5 to 20. Along the way, they came across many rural towns where commercial building blocks have been turned into swiftlet farms.

In Tatau, two residents complained about the existence of swiftlet farms which have been mushrooming and occupying commercial building blocks in town.

The nuisance of living or doing business in areas where there is a swiftlet farm is the constant stench due to the birds’ droppings and the fear of the spread of avian flu.

In previous BAT trips, the BAT team saw in Balingian new township a whole two-storeyed commercial building block of nine units being turned into swiftlet farms.

Transforming shophouses into swiftlet farms is prohibited by the state government.

Len also said the state government had been taking a very relaxed stance on bird’s nest industry and has allowed swiftlet farms to be set up in oil palm plantations and agriculture land 10km away from town.

“However, it’s against the law to set up one in the middle of populated areas,” said Len.

He said the Forest Dept acknowledged that the bird’s nest industry was a lucrative business and Sarawak did not oppose the development of swiftlet farming which done in healthy manner on agriculture land.

However, Len said since the laws did not permit the establishment of swiftlet farms in urban areas, most swiftlet farms in town were actually not licensed.

Section 19 of the Wildlife Protection Rules, 1998 states that ‘no person shall establish, own or maintain a commercial wild life farm without a licence issued by the Controller’.

Rule 18(a) and (b) of the Wildlife Protection (Edible Birds’ Nests) (Amendment) Rules, 2006 prohibits farms to be set up on land cleared or declared to be town area under Section 11(1) of the Land Code, unless the special condition of the title for the land allows it to be used for agriculture and written approval has been obtained from the divisional Superintendent of Land and Suvery Dept for the erection of building to be used for swiftlet farming.

Meanwhile, Assistant Minister of Local Government Datu Dr Penguang Manggil said from the perspective of the local authorities, they could only ‘do something’ to the swiftlet farms when there was an apparent threat of avian flu or when the bird’s dropping had become such a nuisance.

“If there is no exterior modification of the building that is against the law, we can’t do anything to the swiftlet farmers.”

“We can only do it if we work together with other relevant agencies such as the Land and Survey Department and Forest Department,” said Penguang.

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