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BHALUKA, Bangladesh (Reuters Life!) - A Bangladeshi entrepreneur wants to add bite to the country's meager exports with skin and meat from crocodiles, products he says are largely recession-proof as they're targeted at the rich.
Mushtaq Ahmed's Reptiles Farm Ltd is the first to commercially farm saltwater crocodiles in largely impoverished Bangladesh, with the aim of supplying the luxury goods market.
It took Ahmed several years to get the necessary financing and bureaucratic approvals to set up the farm, which started operating in late 2005 with imported crocodiles and fulfils all international wildlife protection treaties.
"People first thought it was a crazy idea. But I always knew it was going be a successful project," Ahmed told Reuters.
"Four years on, it is now home to over 400 crocodiles, which is more than the combined total of wild saltwater crocodiles in Bangladesh," he said at the farm in the village of Bhaluka, 110 km (65 miles) north of the capital Dhaka.
Later this year, the farm will start exporting baby crocodiles and skin from the larger ones, with several European buyers already showing interest, Ahmed said.
The skin is used to make luxury leather products such as belts and handbags, and Ahmed aims to export over 5,000 crocodile parts annually, eyeing an income of about $5 million by 2015.
Crocodile teeth are used to make necklaces or decorative pieces, while bones are used in perfume production. Crocodile meat is also widely consumed in several parts of the world.
With all these commercial prospects Ahmed is confident his business will succeed, even in difficult times.
"This industry is not going to a affected by the global recession because those who use crocodile skin are targeting the really rich," he said.
Commercial crocodile farming exists in several countries, notably Australia, Thailand and Malaysia, but Ahmed says Bangladesh has a competitive advantage because of special import tariff agreements with the European Union.
Writing by Anis Ahmed; Editing by Miral Fahmy