Friday, October 17, 2008

Aljijiyah Poultry Farm

Note: I speak 6 languages: Dutch, English, Ilonggo, Kiniray-a, Cebuano, and Tagalog. But because I've always felt that I don't really need Tagalog, I've never put much effort in learning how to speak and write well in Tagalog. (Living in Davao City where everybody speaks horrific ungrammatical Tagalog hasn't helped much either.) This explains why my Tagalog is very Bisaya. On the other hand, Ustadz Saguir, the person I interviewed for this story below, doesn't speak English very well. I could've just spoken to him in Bisaya yet for some reason I always shifted to Tagalog and probably looked a bit foolish trying to cope with the language gap by at times, speaking in a mixture of English and Bisaya and then translating this into Tagalog. Such is the hassle of communicating in a language that's not my best. But then I always think of Roberto, my friend from Peru who came to the Philippines speaking only Spanish and 10 words of English, and 20 words of Bisaya. For 3 years he and his wife Sabine stayed in a remote barrio some 6 hours away from Davao City. Roberto and I communicated mostly in Spanish (which he spoke) and English and Bisaya (which I spoke). But what really made us understand each other were the face and body gestures that accompanied what we said. Madrama kami, in short. Quite tiring to have to repeat ourselves several times until the contextual clues are crystal clear to the other party but sige nalang; I got to learn about what's it like in Peru from a Peruvian! Bottomline is that a language gap will only be a burden if you make it. Don't be shy to dramatize what you mean! So anyway, here's the story:

Ustadz Saguir Salendar, a Muslim, has always had to buy native chickens and slaughter them himself just to be sure that they would be halal or permissible by the Holy Qur’an. For years, this was how he erased any doubts that the chickens he ate did not contain any harmful antibiotics and were totally bled to death and blessed with the words Bismillah Allaho Akbar (In the name of Allah the greatest).

Jaafar Ali, a member of Darul Ifta, explains that after killing an animal, blood needs to be let out of the carcass. Not only is the drinking of blood repugnant to human decency, it may also be injurious to health. As such, halal food not only means no pork and pork by-products, but also no blood and blood by-products, or food containing alcohol and intoxicants.

What many probably do not know is that in Islam, all land and aquatic animals and plants are lawful except boars, dogs, monkeys, foxes, donkeys, cats, tigers, lions, and elephants, snakes and some reptiles. Yet it is not enough for an animal to be halal; the way it is slaughtered should also be halal. This, for instance, means there should be no killing through strangulation, beating, and goring. Instead, the animal should be rendered unconscious prior to slaughtering in order to avoid wild movement of its body.

As a rule, slaughtering of an animal should be fully separated from those that are considered haram or not permissible like dogs and pigs. And every time, slaughtering must be performed by a mature Muslim of sound mind and body who fully understands the fundamentals, rules, and conditions related to the Islamic way of slaughtering animals. A Muslim who knowingly or unknowingly eats food that is haram will invalidate all his or her prayers for the next 40 days.

In the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), however, there are very few halal poultry farms that cater to Muslims’ need for halal chickens. This was what motivated Ustadz Saguir to find a way to start his own halal poultry farm which he would name Aljijiyah, one of the 99 names of Allah, meaning, “The most high.” In June 2008, opportunity came knocking when the Department of Agriculture (DA) of ARMM let Ustadz Saguir and about 30 of his companions undergo a two-week seminar on how to start a poultry farm. Facilitated by members of the Muslim Mindanao Halal Certification Board, Inc. (MMHCBI), the seminar taught them everything they needed to know.

Start-up capital was taken from profits of Ustadz Saguir’s junk shop in Cotabato City. Through buying and selling all sorts of scrap materials, he had saved up 600,000 pesos. He also sold two of his cars for 800,000 pesos. With the money, Ustadz Saguir bought a 2,500 square-meter piece of land in Biniruan. On it he built a 150 feet long and 31 feet wide structure to house his chickens. Two months later, the second poultry farm was built on a one-hectare piece of land in Simuay. Purchasing the plots of land cost more than half a million pesos while the poultry farm structures cost almost a million pesos.

Despite these initial high costs, business is booming. The poultry farms have been divided into several 10 square foot compartments, each containing some eight hundred chicks. The sizes of these compartments are increased as the chicks grow bigger. Every time one gets sick, the problem is solved through a quick call to the vet of MMHCBI who advises what medicines to buy. Ustadz Saguir has also followed MMHCBI’s recommendations about how much food to give his chickens each week, what vaccines to use, as well as letting his employees wear masks, boots, coats, and veils, and using stainless steel materials instead of wood.

On September 18, 2008, Aljijiyah Poultry Farm was finally certified halal by MMHCBI and soon after, three hotels in Cotabato City – Centerpoint, Las Hermanas, and Casablanca – expressed interest in ordering 500 dressed chickens a week. This is a demand, Ustadz Saguir says, that his poultry farms are unable to meet as of now because although they can house a combined number of 6,300 chickens at one time, the weekly production output is still only 1,000 dressed chickens. In addition, Ustadz Saguir is only able to afford 10 Muslim employees for each of the poultry farms; two are regular caretakers and the rest work on an on-call basis when extra hands are needed during times when the chickens are ready for slaughtering and dressing.

In the first poultry farm, there is no running water in the vicinity. Ustadz Saguir’s employees have to collect water from neighboring houses where one drum of 200 liters of water costs 50 pesos. These drums are then transported back to the poultry farm where it takes 35 to 42 days to breed one halal chicken. Strictly no antibiotics are used in Aljijiyah Poultry Farm to artificially speed up the process. However, because there are no halal feeds yet on the market, Ustadz Saguir has to contend with giving his chickens GMO feeds and then, five days before slaughtering, switch them to a diet of rice and mais to get rid of any GMO traces. The good news is that soon, in December 2008, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) in ARMM will finish perfecting its formula for halal feeds and then stadz Saguir will not have to worry anymore about what to feed his chickens.

Another temporary inconvenience is having to slaughter the chickens in the poultry farms and then having to transport them to his house where they are processed. In December 2008, however, all slaughtering and processing of chickens will be done in the Integrated Halal Poultry and Livestock Slaughter House when it is completed. The facility constructed by the DAF-ARMM contains electric hoists, bleeding pails, and a defeathering machine that can service 600 poultry an hour. When it opens, five to ten pesos will be charged for every chicken that is processed.

Ustadz Saguir muses that right now, a delivery van with a built-in refrigerator would be very convenient to have. His next big project as soon as Aljijiyah Poultry Farm is able to meet Cotabato City’s demand for halal poultry, is to set up set up more stores and more poultry farms in the neighboring areas of Kabacan, Matalam, General Santos City, Datu Odin Sinsuat, and Tacurong. Inshallah (God willing) he will.

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