Cambodia needs to put more money into edible bird’s nest processing plants as it inches ever closer to official exports to China, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries senior official Ngin Chhay told The Post on Sunday.

Edible bird’s nest is made from the dried saliva of Southeast Asia’s white-nest swiftlet (Aerodramus fuciphagus).

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

Chhay, the director-general of the ministry’s General Directorate of Agriculture, said Chinese regulatory authorities have sent Cambodia a list of 300 questions on customs valuation.

Though a number of obstacles lie ahead, he voiced his optimism that the responsible working group of experts and relevant departments would pull through and complete the list by the end of the year.

“At the moment, we don’t have an edible bird’s nest processing plant that is officially recognised internationally for meeting standards, given that most of the products are made in family operations.

“We do not want to rush and send the documents back to the Chinese side, and risk having them be rejected,” Chhay said.

He listed the Forestry Administration, the General Department of Animal Health and Production and the private sector as stakeholders in the endeavour.

Investment in swiftlet homes continues to climb on the back of the eagerly-awaited foothold that the Kingdom’s edible bird’s nest exports are expected to gain in China once the recently-signed bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) comes into force, he said.

With its sprawling natural areas and limited industrial pollution ruining the product, Cambodian edible bird’s nest has been internationally hailed for its superior quality.

Cambodia Bird’s Nest Federation president Nang Sothy acknowledged the lack of top-of-the-line processors of edible bird’s nest, but pointed out that a larger market would drive investment in adequate facilities, and more so if backed by official exports to China.

Growth of investment in the sector is sure to gain momentum, underpinned by the high prices of the Southeast Asian commodity on the international market, he said.

“Investment in swiftlet-product processing plants is not a problem. The main obstacle now is the market,” Sothy said.

He said an un-cleaned edible bird’s nest is currently worth $500-800 per kg while cleaned ones cost between $1,800 and $3,500 depending on the quality.

With at least 3,000 swiftlet homes in Cambodia, he said between 1,000kg and 1,500kg of the delicacy can be harvested per month in the Kingdom, of which about 30 per cent is for domestic consumption.

The remaining 70 per cent is shipped abroad by traders, mostly in the form of informal exports to China, he said.

Demand for the commodity has created a global market with annual revenue as high as $5 billion, said Federation of Malaysian Bird’s Nest Merchants Association president Tok Teng Sai, as reported by Bloomberg in August 2013.

China is the largest market for the delicacy, while Indonesia and Malaysia are the region’s leading suppliers, he said.