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Bird’s nest sector sours as export talks dawdle

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The hunt for high-value market opportunities and Covid-19-induced business stagnation has drawn the attention of a number of resourceful people into investing in raising swiftlets, says one industry player. SUPPLIED

Bird’s nest sector sours as export talks dawdle

Local swiftlet nest industry players are showing more confidence that Cambodian edible bird’s nests would thrive in international markets, amid an apparent rebound in investment in the commodity, even as talks with other countries for export requirements trudge along.

Edible bird’s nest is made from the dried saliva of Southeast Asia’s white-nest swiftlet (Aerodramus fuciphagus), and China is the largest market for the commodity.

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 a host of claimed health benefits, such as boosting a person’s immune system and sex drive.

Cambodia has long pursued China as an export destination for the commodity, but as Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries director-general for Agriculture Ngin Chhay previously told The Post, Chinese authorities only consider a single product per country at a time to import.

This, combined with domestically-processed bird’s nest generally falling short of local authorities’ quality expectations, has dampened the prospects of official exports of the commodity in the near future, he said.

He noted that officials were in the process of preparing the required documents, but that the application for bird’s nest would have to wait for negotiations on sanitary and phytosanitary issues to conclude for Pailin longan first, due to China’s single-product approach.

The ministry has also floated proposals to the Chinese government for the direct export of peppercorn, durian and pomelos.

But Mean Neang, who has worked in a family edible bird’s nest business for about two years, clings on to optimism that the commodity will gain wider access to international markets and that the project will pay off in the long run.

“In my book, formal exports to the international market would improve the market and there’d be more investors raising and processing edible bird’s nests,” she told The Post on November 21.

Nonetheless, Neang noted that the prices and sales of her product have not seen significant changes during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Try Nimol, the owner of a business that builds special structures to attract swiftlets to breed and make the valuable edible nests, recently told The Post that his team in January-October designed or built 50 such set-ups, large or small, up from 20 in full year 2020.

“The hunt for high-value market opportunities and Covid-19-induced business stagnation has drawn the attention of a number of resourceful people into investing in raising swiftlets,” he said, adding that a set-up generally commands a price of at least $10,000.

For the investment, Nimol recommends a house that measures at least 5m by 20m and costs $35,000 at the minimum.

On the other hand, Cambodia Bird’s Nest Federation president Nang Sothy said that Covid has blighted many investors’ aspirations of getting into raising swiftlets to harvest their edible nests for direct export to China.

“For now, the market for swiftlet saliva is not showing any positive signs, due to the fact that there are no direct overseas buyers, even from China, which is a large market with considerable demand,” he said.

Still, with lots of local operations in natural areas and away from industrial plant smoke, Sothy contended that Cambodia’s bird nest is internationally recognised for its quality.

He said prices of the commodity have remained flat since end-2020, with uncleaned edible bird’s nests currently worth $500-800 per kilogramme and cleaned ones hovering in the $1,800-$3,500 range, depending on 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.

Federation of Malaysian Bird’s Nest Merchants Association president Tok Teng Sai has said demand for the commodity has created a global market with annual revenue as high as $5 billion, and Indonesia and Malaysia are the region’s leading suppliers, Bloomberg reported in August 2013.


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