Pearls are extensively used in two ways. They are used in making jewellery and in spiritual practices, with huge demand all over the world. People pay high prices for pearls based on their quality. Now the question is whether it is possible to grow good quality pearls artificially. The answer is yes. This process of developing artificial pearls by procuring mussels is called pearl farming, a type of agricultural practice.
Pearls were first discovered by humans thousands of years ago. In our historical sites, earlier centuries' paintings also recognised the beauty and value of pearls. Natural pearls are rare to be found, and maybe one in 2000 pearl oysters contain a natural pearl. Prompted by the high value and scarcity of natural pearls, researchers in Japan developed various methods to produce pearls artificially. The process of producing pearls artificially and the various steps involved in the process is explained below:
Did you know? Hyderabad is known as the City of Pearls, even though it’s nearly 300 km away from the ocean. The city got its moniker from being the leading centre for pearl processing and the subsequent development of the pearl trade.
How to Start Pearl Farming?
Farmers use various methods of pearl cultivation in different regions of India and countries like China, Japan etc. Some of the majorly used methods are as follows:
Tahitian Longline Method
In this method, a mainline is held in place by anchors and kept afloat by buoys. The oysters are hung on to the main line. In simple words, a rope is tied with some anchor lines, and to keep it afloat, the main rope is tied with some empty containers. This is an underwater farm method and is mostly preferred, as it protects the pearls from rough weather and boats. It is mostly used in the Pacific Ocean. It takes two people underwater and one on the boat. The main line used should be polypropylene or nylon material. It is essential to ensure that the knot used to tie the main line to the anchoring point is very strong.
Floating Rafts Method
In this method, floating rafts are used to hang the pearl oysters. These rafts are generally built from bamboo. Now, these rafts float on water by attaching some empty drums or containers to them. The advantage of this method is it provides stability. It is commonly used in Japan and Indonesia.
Recirculating Aquaculture System
In this method, you can start pearl farming at your home. As the name suggests, this method involves the circulation of water within the tanks and filtering solid waste, Carbon dioxide and ammonium from water. Afterwards, the filtered water now saturated with oxygen is reused.
Benefits of recirculation aquaculture system
- Efficient use of water and energy
- Full control over diseases
- Uses effective feeding strategy
Advantages of Pearl Farming
- Pearl farming is a fascinating and growing business because of the high value and quality of the final product. Therefore, this ensures a high chance of better return on investment.
- The final product is lightweight and non-perishable, which adds to the advantages of pearl farming. This translates lower storage costs.
- Pearl oysters are available in remote tropical islands and reefs where commercial exploitation of marine resources is difficult due to the lack of shipping and refrigeration facilities. Therefore, considering the demand for pearls, you need not unnecessarily worry about finding buyers.
What Is the Process Involved in Pearl Farming?
The pearl farming business is a very simple but time-consuming process. To start a pearl farming business there are some steps to be followed:
Site Selection and Pearl Farm Establishment
In this step, you will have to get water quality of your proposed site tested in an authorised government laboratory. This test will tell you if the water is suitable for pearl farming. A CIFA-authorised laboratory is a preferable choice.
Obtain Pearl Oyster Stock
After the confimrtng the location and the water quality of the pearl farm, you must obtain the oyster stock. An oyster stock can be obtained in the following ways:
In this method, you procure the young oysters, which are at the right age for grafting. Spat refers to young swimming oyster larvae that gets attached to a surface to settle down.
The hatchery-produced spat is a good option and reasonably priced if available in your area.
Collection of Adult Oysters
In this method, you procure adult oysters with a higher mortality risk as they are available at more reasonable prices.
Drill and Hang on Chaplets or Place in Net Containers
In this step, you have to put obtained oysters’ stock in the water either by hanging them on chaplets(similar to garlands or circlets), or you can place them in big net containers.
This is an artificial procedure to implant an artificial nucleus into the tissue of the pearl oyster, which later on develops as a pearl.
Pearl Development Process
After implanting the nucleus into the oyster tissue, this nucleus continuously irritates the oyster. Due to this, the oyster covers it with the calcium carbonate layer. It will take twelve to twenty-four months for pearl development, during which you have to feed your oysters and prevent them from getting any infections.
Marketing of Pearls
After you have produced pearls, you need a good marketing strategy for selling quality pearls. In fact, you can start looking into marketing strategies even while you’re growing them. Now that you pearls are ready and marketing strategy is in place, you are ready to sell them. Based on the quality of the pearls, you can get a sizable amount for your product.
Pearl Farming Business
Due to the availability of vast information on the internet and technological development, it is quite simple to start a new business. The same condition applies to the pearl farming business. After following the above steps, you can start your business at any level. But before that, it is advisable to take training from a government institute like CIFA (Central Institute of Freshwater Aquaculture).
But for starting a home business at a small level, you will need a simple setup of two fish tanks. These tanks should be placed one over the other, such that the water flows from the tank above to the tank below. You need to make a hole in the upper tank to let the water flow easily. Now you have to fit one air pump, venturi pump and water pump, which regulates the water flow and maintains the required temperature for the development of the oysters.
Once you complete the above setup, you have to run this setup every day for a few hours in the morning and evening. A tank with dimensions of 2.5 feet in width, 3 feet in length, and 1.5 feet in depth can accommodate around 50 mussels.
You need to ensure that the algae provided to the mussels are of high quality. Vitamin and mineral supplements should be provided as they are a major deciding factor in the quality of pearl produced. This pearl farming cost would be around ₹20,000 to ₹25,000.
Cost & Profitability Analysis of Pearl Farming Business
A single oyster from the market would cost you about ₹20 to ₹30, whereas you can sell oyster pearls in the market in a price range of ₹300 to ₹1,500, depending upon the quality of the pearl. Although you can see a huge profit margin involved in this business, it requires time and patience. Remember, you can start this business on a small scale with low investment, but you need to invest time and money over several years for large scale expansion.
The steps involved in the pearl farming process comprise obtaining spat, growing them by feeding for grafting size, grafting, and culturing until the first harvest. Though it may seem easy, it is a lengthy process. Starting a pearl farm and obtaining steady returns requires four to five years. If we are operating on a large scale, the revenue generated from the first harvest would not be enough to return your investment. But by the end of the fourth harvest, you will start getting your investment back.
Some major costs involved in the pearl farming business are as follows:-
- Cost of obtaining oysters from the market by one of the three methods: Spat collection, purchase of hatchery-produced spat, or collection of adult oysters.
- Set up the cost of the farm structure (floats, lines, rafts, etc.)
- Purchase of boats.
- Various equipment and supplies.
- Labour cost.
- SCUBA gear.
- Licencing cost (if you want to commence a commercial business, you should compulsorily fulfil this requirement)
- Grafting technician cost
- Transportation cost
- Technical advisor’s fees
- Marketing expenses
Also Read: Upcoming Business Ideas in India for 2023
Important Things to Remember
Long-term Investment, Hard Work, Patience and Money
The process of this business is easy to learn. However, the main reason behind the failure of newly established farms is the unwillingness to invest enough time and money required to produce high-quality pearls. A period of one to two years is required before the first harvest, and most farmers do not begin to gain profits until their third or fourth harvest. Therefore, to start this business, you must have enough money, time, and patience.
High-Quality Pearls Are the Key to Profitability
Pearls of average quality sell for prices only enough to recover the cost of production and selling the lowest quality pearls would lead to loss. But the top-quality pearls can be sold at higher prices and return a profit. But to produce high-quality pearls, farmers should take immense care at all stages, from procuring the oysters to harvesting.
Production of Top-quality Pearls Depends Upon Certain Circumstances
Before starting a pearl farm, you should analyze whether you will meet the following criteria:
- A reliable source to obtain oysters.
- A suitable site for the establishment of a pearl farm, which fulfills the criteria mentioned earlier.
- Sufficient finance to operate the pearl farm smoothly.
- Access to grafting technicians and knowledge of grafting.
- Strategy to market the produced pearls and identify potential customers.
Also Read: How to Grow Your Business? 10 Key Steps
Pearl farming is a unique and growing business, and the demand for quality pearls is increasing daily. We saw how the artificial technique of cultivating pearls began in Japan and China and is now practiced in India, backed by the government. The process of pearl farming is simple, but requires proper training for technical work such as grafting (the process of implanting the nucleus in the mussels). The profitability of this business is high, but a farmer should be consistent in their work for four to seven years.
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