Rearing emus is costly business and not particularly lucrative. Thousands of emu farmers in the country are facing ruin, and yet the government is reluctant to impose a ban, says MANEKA GANDHI.
In 1996, an Andhra Pradesh businessman smuggled in emus through the customs, saying they were chickens from Australia. Emus look nothing like chicken but one bribe looks like another, so everyone kept quiet.
He multiplied these emus and started giving them to people who had poultry farms. Soon, this illegal bird spread throughout India and the animal husbandry department, who were informed again and again of the dangers of keeping this bird, jumped into its promotion enthusiastically. This Government, under Sharad Pawar (who else?), has permitted emu farming. NABARD gives loans for it.
It has spread like a disease from Andhra Pradesh to Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Goa, Uttarakhand, even Gujarat, where three businessmen so far have started emu farms.
It has taken 15 years and hundreds of bankruptcies to realise that emu farming is a fake – a Ponzi scheme started by clever crooks to defraud farmers. Let me explain to you the Great Emu Game through an example:
A man called M.S. Guru started Susi Emu Farms in 2006 in Erode. He cheated 12,000 investors. It was done in two ways. The company sold emu chicks to a farmer. The farmer was told that once the birds were adult, the company would buy them back. Many farmers turned their agricultural lands into emu-rearing sheds.
Susi also asked people to invest in their emu business, paying to own emus which would be reared by Susi on a contract basis, guaranteeing Rs.1,000 per month as a return to the farmer. Many victims were lured by what appeared to be the success of Susi Farms. Guru was conferred the Arch of Excellence (Business) Award (2008) and Gem of India Award-2011 by All India Achievers Conference.
"They said it was a very simple business. They promised to supply chicks and the fodder. The shed was built on my premises, with the claim that it was free, though I had to pay a huge amount in the form of an interest-free security deposit,” recalls P. Subrahmani from Omallaur, who invested Rs. 15 lakh with Susi Farms. He got 25 others to invest. “As per the agreement, they had to pay me Rs.7,000 per month for a unit of six birds as maintenance charge. I had ten units. They made one payment and then stopped. They kept the security deposit and had no explanation for not making the payment.” Those that invested in Susi directly had to give an initial investment of Rs. 2 lakh and were allocated 20 chicks. They were promised a total return of Rs.6.5 lakh in five years.
Perunthurai, a town in Erode district, is the hub of emu farming with 28 companies who have done the same thing as Susi. According to police estimates, there are over 250 promoters of contract farming of this bird across the State and they all attracted investors promising higher returns. Dozens of emu farms started operations with ads to lure farmers to rear the bird in contract mode in Coimbatore, Krishnagiri, Pollachi, Mettupalayam, Tirupur, Perundurai, Dharapuram and Salem. The district administration and police have now issued press statements warning people off emu farming or investments. The Susi birds are now being fed by the government but they will all die soon as feeding them is very expensive.
Tamil Nadu is not alone. For the last three months, teams of People For Animals have been going round Uttarakhand checking emu farms. Farmers in Nainital started breeding emus some years ago. Now, the emus have been abandoned and the farmers ruined. The farmers have stopped feeding them and lakhs of these birds are dying of starvation. Nothing can be done as there is no space to keep them.
Expensive to maintain
The companies insist that the emu is a bird which is easy to keep and is very popular for its meat, oil, leather and eggs. None of these claims is true.
The fact is that emu meat is a failure. It is tough and difficult to cook. In fact, Australians do not eat emu meat. Susi started a restaurant with emu meat as the main fare. No takers.
The emus require lakhs of rupees to feed. They grow to 6 feet. They have to be fed several times a day, 4 kg food each time. They eat seeds, fruit, insects, tender leaves, lizards, other small animals and animal droppings. They do not eat dry grass or older leaves, even if that’s all that is available to them. Emus also need charcoal to help them digest their food.
Each requires 10 litres of water daily. The female lays eggs only during October to March and the maximum number is 10-20 eggs, one every 3-5 days. Emus lay eggs with difficulty. Only a few lay eggs at one time and an incubator is needed to hatch them. But incubators are uneconomical unless there is a reasonable quantity of eggs to sustain the cost of production. They get diseases like encephalitis.
As far as selling them for food, the price of emu meat is Rs. 450 a kg – an impossible price. The egg sells for Rs. 2,200. The eggs are dark green and very difficult to eat at one go and impossible to keep. In 2010, Punjab Agro Tech promoted the emu at its business fair, saying that omelettes of its eggs were selling at Rs. 5,000 per omelette in 5 star hotels – a claim found to be utterly false. In fact, 5 stars do not even have emu on their menus. The egg is never sold because it is too expensive and it is needed for breeding more birds. After 15 years there are still not enough eggs in India to make a business out of selling them. Now the emu companies are claiming that they will sell feather and nails, cooking oil and beauty products!
If the emu was being grown for meat and oil, any emu business has to have a slaughterhouse to kill the birds hygienically and another unit to process oil. Not one company has these. They simply have birds which they contract out, take the money and run.
These emu contract businesses that offer Rs. 350 a bird and more are simply conning the farmer as this is unviable. If the company tells the farmer to bring in more investors, it is definitely planning to take the money and run. An entrepreneur in Anand, Gujarat, who expected to reap huge profits from killing the bird, is now selling them as pets. The farmers of Hoshiarpur are now bankrupt as are the emu farmers of Maharashtra – a scam that broke in 2010 and was ignored.
Uttarakhand , Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu have crashed. But that doesn’t prevent more States and more ignorant State administrations from pushing emu meat. Goa, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh are pushing this. Bihar’s ignorant animal husbandry and fisheries resources department minister is asking the World Bank to give Bihar money to start emu farming.
His department says that emu oil has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative effects – a claim that Australia does not make. Previously he had tried to make rat eating popular. How many farmers will have to commit suicide before India bans emu farming?
To join the animal welfare movement, contact firstname.lastname@example.org