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Chapter 1.

The market for bird food[1] is growing rapidly. By some estimates, growth is 4 percent per annum (Plimsoll, 2003). More disposable income and more leisure time in industrialized countries have led to an increased number of people keeping companion birds[2]. In addition many people have taken up breeding of exotic birds as a hobby, demanding bird food of high quality. At the same time, environmental awareness and an increase in nature-related and outdoor activities have stimulated the interest in bird watching as a backyard hobby and have led to an increase in the amount of backyard feeding of wild birds. Whereas until recently, the market for bird food was mainly concentrated in the industrialized countries of the northern hemisphere, sales of bird food in Mexico, Brazil and the Pacific Rim countries (notably Australia, Japan, Malaysia and Indonesia) have increased substantially over the past five years.

Bird food statistics are difficult to find because bird food is grouped under the general heading of pet foods. However, some published data give an indication of the global scale of the market. It is estimated that in the United States of America alone 52 million people regularly feed wild birds in their gardens, spending US$2.5 billion on food plus an estimated US$850 million on accessories like bird feeders, water fountains, etc[3]. In addition, 4.6 million households in the United States of America own 12.6 million birds (AVMA, 2001). The total northern European market has an estimated value of more than US$1 billion, mainly in the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Sweden and Norway. Conservatively estimated, the global market represents between US$5 billion and US$6 billion.

The growth of the bird food industry has led to greater sophistication in formulating small-grain mixtures. While the actual number of grain species used in bird food formulations is relatively small, packers and distributors are increasingly segmenting their offer to cater for specific bird species or consumer expectations. Currently most suppliers offer more than ten different mixes including organic bird food and bird food that is free from Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO), both for caged and wild bird feeding. In addition, there is a developing market for plants for game cover or wildlife habitat creation.

Small grain mixtures are the mainstay of bird food. Several of the grain species commonly used in these mixtures are of tropical or subtropical origin or are species that can be grown in tropical and subtropical countries. In addition, premium mixes being sold often contain pieces of dried tropical and subtropical fruits such as papaya, banana, kiwi and mango. As packers look for new formulations to differentiate their product from those of competitors, it is likely that new ingredients, in particular underutilized and indigenous tropical and subtropical crops, will find a place in premium bird food mixes, which could provide opportunities for the producers of these crops.

The purpose of this report is to give an overview of the market for bird food and to highlight some of the plant species that can be successfully grown and processed in developing countries to supply this market. Major constraining factors to be taken into consideration are also identified. The document provides information that will be found valuable by entrepreneurs of small enterprises and farmer groups looking for new cash crop alternatives, as well as service providers and policy makers in the agro-industrial sector in developing countries.

[1] The word "bird" in this context implies companion (i.e. pet) birds and also wild birds that are fed for leisure. It excludes poultry birds. The word "feed" is generally used when discussing feeding animals. However, in most of the literature, the word "food" is preferred in relation to feeding companion birds and wild birds.
[2] "Companion bird" is currently the preferred term used in the United States for what are known more commonly as "pet bird".
[3] Source United States Fish and Wildlife Service, 2001.

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