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May 29, 2011

Malian hopes to build world' s biggest ostrich farm

In Banguineda village, 35 kilometers South of Bamako, Malian entrepreneur Mamadou Coulibaly is making big money from a big bird.

Coulibaly's is keeping and breeding ostriches, the largest species of bird, which in the wild, was hunted for it's meat, feathers and tough skin and now survives around the world mostly in special farms.

Coulibaly approached a group of North Korean ostrich farmers who were breeding the birds in their country for advice on how to get started. He opened his ostrich farm in 2008 with 100 ostriches and the population has now grown to 3000 birds today, making it the biggest farm in West Africa.

"When I first started this project, I contacted a Korean company that speacialises in ostrich farming in North Korea. I made contact with them to see how they managed to develop ostrich farming," he said.

According to experts, for over a century, South Africa had a monopoly on large scale ostrich farming.

The bird had been hunted almost to extinction in 1865. South African farmers began breeding them and made fortunes in the early 1900s when ostrich feathers were in high demand by fashion designers around the world.

In 1989, South Africa banned the export of live ostrich and eggs to try and protect its market.

But ostrich eggs were smuggled out to the United States and Asia, including China and North Korea where breeding farms were established.

There, it is the meat, which many say tastes like beef, but is low in fat and cholesterol, which is most prized.

Ostriches thrive in arid and semi-desert areas, making Mali, which extends into the Sahara desert an ideal place to rare the big bird.

But catching them can be tricky. These birds aren't just the biggest - they are also the fastest, capable of speeds of up to 97 kilometers per hour.

Coulibaly is hoping to turn his farm and Mali into the next ostrich farming destination and with world-wide demand for ostrich products rising he is positioning himself to be the top supplier.

"In 2014, we'll be the world's largest because there are around 30,000 breeding ostriches in the world today and our ambition is to have 10,000 breeding ostriches by 2014," Coulibaly said.

Coulibaly says that the farm's turnover in 2010 was 1.4 million US dollars.

He is still working with North Korean experts to breed ostriches, whose eggs are stored in a high tech breeding center not far from his farm.

Kim Il Ung is the director of the breeding center.

"By 2015, we want to have at least 10,000 hens to establish a big farm. This is planned over a period of eight years and after that 100,000 ostriches will produce meat and furs here in Mali," said Kim.

Analysts say Africa has the fastest growing economy in the world after Asia, and is home to five out of seven of the swifests growing economies.

As African and world leaders gather in Cape Town, South Africa's for the World Economic Forum (WEF), job creation and Africa's economic integration in the world is expected to dominate discussion. Experts have highlighted entrepreneurship as a means to even further economic stability for the continent's populations.

Coulibaly, who is also investing in crocodile farming, is among a growing crop of African entrepreneurs who are trying to create wealth at home.

Mali's unemployment level is at 30 percent.

Mohamed Diawara, a shopkeeper at Bamako's national park, sells ostrich products from Coulibaly's farm, such as decorative eggs and handbags made out of ostrich skin.

"I am here thanks to Mr. Coulibaly. I used to work for him in Niger and when he started his ostrich and crocodile farming, I was doing leathercrafts for him at the time, he offered me to run this shop in the National park," Diawara said.

A breeding ostrich can sell for up to 5,000 US dollars and those whose feathers can be used for decoration can sell for around 3,000 US dollars.

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