Formal exports of Cambodian edible bird’s nest (EBN) products to China are on the horizon, as the Kingdom prepares to submit to Beijing on April 28 documentation relating to a list of six remaining questions of a questionnaire, according to Cambodia Swiftlet Federation (“CSF”) president Nang Sothy.
“It is estimated that Cambodian EBN exports to international markets are worth a total of ‘more than $100 million’ per year,” Sothy told The Post on April 26. “Opening the Chinese market to Cambodian exports of EBN products will greatly promote economic growth here, as shipments through neighbouring countries have historically cost Cambodia loads of money.”
Consumed for its perceived health and wellbeing benefits, local EBNs are generally made from the dried saliva of the Aerodramus genus of swiftlets, which are found throughout Southeast Asia. Traditionally, the processed swiftlet nests are double boiled with rock sugar to make a delicacy known as “bird’s nest soup”.
China is the largest market for the commodity.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has identified the EBN as a priority product for export to the Chinese market, along with the likes of the Pailin longan, peppercorn, durian and pomelo.
The CSF’s Sothy recounted that Beijing is requiring additional input for six questions of an export questionnaire for unprocessed and processed EBNs submitted by Cambodia.
However, he declined to reveal what those questions were, merely noting that they are “too complicated” to explain. Still, he affirmed that the process is on a “positive path”, and that the six questions were among the “hundreds” on the survey.
Sothy said that he and a team representing the private sector on April 25 met with senior officials from the General Directorate of Agriculture (GDA) – which is under the agriculture ministry – to review and gather input for the documentation to be submitted.
A green light from Beijing for the export of Cambodian EBNs to China will bolster investment in swiftlet homes – specialised cave-like buildings designed to attract the birds and encourage them to nest there – as well as cleaning and processing facilities for the commodity, he opined.
For the time being, with formal exports to China likely to begin “soon”, locally-made EBN will continue to be exported to other countries, such as Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand, he said, expressing appreciation for the efforts of agriculture ministry officials and private sector actors.
Chiek Cheat, owner of three swiftlet homes in Koh Kong province’s Sre Ambel district with plans to acquire two additional ones nearby, commented that the current $400-600 per-kilogramme going rate for local EBNs would see a marked increase with the creation of formal export market channels to China.
Cheat shared that he started the business more than two years ago, but still produces relatively small amounts of EBNs each month.
“As I get older, I expect the swiftlet farming homes to help me earn enough to support my family. Chinese people like to eat EBN products, so with formal exports, prices will be higher than they are now,” he said.
According to the CSF’s Sothy, per-kilogramme prices for Cambodian uncleaned EBNs currently hover in the $400-800 range, while cleaned ones go for $1,500-3,500 – rates he said were similar to the year-ago period.
For comparison, the ranges Khmer Swiftlet Association (KSA) president Suy Kokthean provided in early March 2022 were $650-700 and “between $1,600 and over $2,000”, respectively.
Sothy estimated the number of swiftlet homes in Cambodia at “more than 3,500”, which he said pale in comparison to the equivalent figures from Malaysia, Indonesia or Thailand. “Each of these could have as many as 100,000,” he surmised.
For comparison, Kokthean in January put the number of swiftlet homes in the Kingdom at “more than 5,000”, of which he claimed “no more than 10 per cent” are registered with the authorities.