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Workers remove feathers and droppings from swiftlet nests before they can be eaten.
Workers remove feathers and droppings from swiftlet nests before they can be eaten. Moeun Nhean

Bird’s nest export plan ready to fly

Cambodia is looking to secure its first commercial contract for the export of swiftlet nests to China, but must first demonstrate compliance with the Asian giant’s hygiene protocols, a government official has said.

Hean Vanhan, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Agriculture, said swiftlet nests, which are created from the dried saliva of a species of swallow, are in high demand in China, where they can fetch over $2,000 per kilo.

He said Cambodia’s swiftlet nest farmers have the potential to produce a surplus of the edible nests, which could be exported to China if they can meet the country’s sanitary and phyto-sanitary [SPS] standards.

“Cambodia has the capacity to produce between 1 tonne and 2.5 tonnes per month, which we should be able to export to China,” he said. “I have proposed that our minister of agriculture speak with Chinese officials to find out what their SPS office requires from us in order to export to China.”

Demand for swiftlet nests is increasing as people become wealthier in Asia. The value of the global industry is now estimated at north of $5 billion a year. China is the biggest market, while Indonesia and Malaysia are the world’s leading suppliers.

Traditionally, the processed swiftlet nest is double boiled with rock sugar to make a delicacy known as “bird’s nest soup”, which has the purported health benefits of boosting a person’s immune system and sex drive.

According to Nang Sothy, president of the Cambodia Bird’s Nest Federation (CBNF), which was set up in 2014 with the Chinese market in mind, there are up to 3,000 swiftlet nest houses across the country.

He said after the demand of the domestic market is met, more than 1.5 tonnes is available each month for export.

In Cambodia, the unprocessed swiftlet nests cost between $450 and $800 per kilo. Once cleaned and processed, the price climbs to between $1,400 and $1,700 per kilo. In China, these same nests sell for up to $2,200 per kilo.

Sothy said CBNF recently had met officials at the ministries of agriculture and commerce to discuss its plan to export surplus bird’s nests to China.

“Since we have surplus production capacity we want to export swiftlet nests directly to China,” he said. “A Chinese partner has agreed to accept shipments from us, but we need the Cambodian government to settle issues with the Chinese government first.”

Currently, a small number of locally harvested swiftlet nests trickle into China through unofficial channels. A direct export path to China would cut out Thai and Vietnamese middlemen who take the lion’s share of profits in this trade.

Soeng Sophary, spokesperson of the Ministry of Commerce, said that the ministry was keen to promote the products of local small- and medium-size enterprises (SMEs), but more work needs to be done to ensure the international competitiveness of local bird’s nests.

“We’ve seen a lot of local swiftlet products in the Cambodian market that are of higher quality and using better packaging,” she said.

“There is potential to export, but we need to improve the quantity and quality in order to meet the international demand and compete in the global market.”

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