A promise yet to deliverhttps://indianexpress.com/article/news-archive/web/a-promise-yet-to-deliver/

A promise yet to deliver

Emu farmers struggle as they get focus wrong,while oil is yet to find a market

Nitin Phate,a farmer based in Phursungi,a small village near Pune,took to emu farming in 2004,lured by the promised returns. He invested Rs 1.5 lakh and set up his farm with 25 birds. It worked in the beginning. Till 2008,he was making profits of around Rs 2 lakh a year by selling emu eggs at Rs 1,200 to Rs 1,500 each. “From 2009,the demand for eggs came down drastically. It became nil in 2011. I sold all my birds in 2012 at Rs 6,000 a pair,” says Phate,40,now back to conventional farming,growing pulses and vegetables.

The emu,which belongs to a family of large birds,is native to Australia. Its farming was introduced in India in the mid-1990s and gradually became popular in those initial years. All emu products — oil,meat,chicks,eggs,fat — sold well and attracted farmers across the country. The collapse started after 2008.

“Initially,the long-term idea was to introduce emu meat in the country,market it and then run the business on generated demand. The byproducts would have sold automatically,” says Sandeep Taware,founder and chairman,Maharashtra Emu Association. “In Maharashtra,calculations went wrong when the farmers diverted their complete focus on eggs and chicks,ignoring the meat market.”

Taware adds that till 2011,Maharashtra had around 5,000 emu farmers. Today,there are less than 1,000.

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Nakkala Laxma Reddy,former chairperson and current adviser of Indian Emu Association,Hyderabad,describes a different focus among Andhra Pradesh farmers,who too have struggled. The state had 500 emu farmers in 2006,which rose to 1,500 in 2010,about 80 per cent of them being small farmers. The number of farmers has remained there since. Unlike in Maharashtra,the farmers there concentrated on selling meat as a competition to goat and sheep meat. When goat or sheep meat sold at Rs 450 per kg,they sold emu meat at Rs 300 per kg. Besides,most of the farmers sold chicks rather than eggs.

“Though one bird’s meat generated an income of Rs 5,000 in 14 months,it did not cover the cost. The amount spent on the feed for 14 months is over Rs 6,000 at Rs 15 per day. Besides,there is also the cost of chick and maintenance involved. Losses can be recovered only by selling emu oil,but the Indian market is not ready for it as of now,” says Reddy. He adds that at present,emu oil is of poor quality because of poor processing and unnatural feed.

Purshottam Rao,vice-president of Emu Farmers Welfare Association,a national body of emu farmers,says there are at present 20,000 emu farmers across the country,of whom 80 per cent are running losses.“There is an urgent need for setting up slaughterhouses with the support of state governments. Farmers all over the country should make efforts to popularise emu oil and meat. Emu meat is 98 per cent fat free and keeps cholesterol down; the oil comes with several medicinal values. Emu farming has great potential,it just needs to be exploited well,” says Rao.

Emu farms require an investment of around Rs 1.5 lakh for 10 to 12 pairs of three-month-old birds. The cost of fencing,which is a one-time investment,is around

Rs 60,000 and the feed cost per year for 10-12 emus around Rs 90,000. Generally,the birds start laying eggs after 18 months. Ten pairs of emus give 100 eggs the first time. The number of eggs doubles the second time,and more than trebles the third time.

“This kind of project promised a return of Rs 3 lakh every year,going by the calculation that an egg is sold at over Rs 1,000. The farmers were attracted by the fact that emus lay eggs for 30 years and they can continue making money for three decades,” says Taware.