The lucrative business of emu bird farming in Tamil Nadu that has attracted huge investors has gone bust. Cases are registered against farm owners for cheating a large number of investors in commercial rearing of the emu birds. As a result, there are over 40,000 emus birds have been left starving.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa has intervened into the mater and has directed the police to take steps for attaching, through courts, properties of companies that ran emu farms and repaying the amounts invested by thousands of depositors.
Emu birds are imported from Australia and are members of the ratite family of birds. They stand about 5 ft tall and are known for their grunting and hissing sound. Emus have three forward pointing toes; the underside of each is flat with a broad pad that makes their legs strong for running.
Emu birds are very costly. Its eggs cost about Rs. 1200 to Rs. 1500 and meat sold for 500 rupees per kilo. Emus oil has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. It’s because of all these attractions; emu farming is a lucrative business in Tamil Nadu.
Even banks are offering loan and as a result, large number farms have come up in this southern state of India. Companies such as Susi Emu Farms, Asian Farms, Queen Farms, Alma Farms, Nidhi Farms, all have well established businesses. Among them Susi Emu farms, in erode Perundhurai, was the first to launch this business in Tamil Nadu.
There are also contract farmers in this business who help grow emus and return them during their breeding time. About 40 firms in Perundurai and its surroundings are involved in the contract farming, some companies even buy the grown up chicks.
There are many companies who have signed contract with the investors offering them good returns on their investment. Investors were lured into the business with the promise that emus presented a good return. Many investors paid up to Rs 40,000 per pair of emus, trusting that the bird’s meat, egg, chick may give good return to their investment.
Emus business was roaring as long as investors were getting good returns. However, their hopes were dashed to ground when their regular income stopped and some farm owners went missing. There was panic all around and complaints of cheating started pouring in against leading players in the emu farming business.
More than 3000 investors registered their complaints against various emu farming companies, of which around 700 were against Susi Emu Farms alone. The enormity of the complaint was such that police had to rent a marriage hall and set up special counters to receive complaints in Erode district. It also setup camps in each district to receive complaints from the investors.
With owners of many emu farms going underground, hundreds of emu birds were left abandoned and were pushed to the state of starvation. Many died due to lack of food as suppliers stopped supplies as companies owned them huge payments. Emus require minimum of 750 grams of feed per day.
On coming to know about the plight of the birds, the district administration of Erode made temporary arrangement to supply feed to about 7,000 emu birds at Susi Emu Farms located there. However, there was no commitment from any quarters about the maintenance of abandoned birds in other farms.
With the emu bubble bursting, the questions were asked who will take care of thousands of emu birds in the state. There are very few takers for them in the local market and disposing them off soon was not an easy option.
Thanks to the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, who intervened into the matter and directed the police to attach properties of companies that ran emu farms. She also asked the Animal Husbandry Department to arrange feed and provide medical care to the birds abandoned by the farm owners.
However, animal rights group were not satisfied and demanded a complete ban on emu farming in the country. "People are being duped and the birds are paying the price for it. We want complete prohibition of emu farming to rule out more people and birds being victimized in this failed business venture" said Arpan Sharma, CEO of Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organization.
It remains to be seen whether Tamil Nadu story of emu bird farming will provide lessons to other such framings in the country. The lure to make quick bucks is driving many farmers to go for new and unconventional methods of farming. If such businesses fail, its nightmare for them and the issue thus becomes part of the jigsaw puzzle that’s related farmer’s suicide in India.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at email@example.com