In recent years, there’s been a surge in the construction of swiftlet roosts. Edible swiftlet nests, an expensive delicacy with numerous perceived health benefits, have seen an increased demand.

This demand isn’t confined to the domestic market alone, but extends internationally. However, despite the upward trend in raising and building swiftlet roosts, supply has struggled to keep pace with market demand.

Khmer Swiftlet Association president Suy Kokthean shed light on the industry’s development in the country during a recent interview with Van Socheata.

Can you provide an overview of the current status of swiftlet raising in Cambodia, and tell us how much it is on the rise?

Over the past three to four years, there’s been a significant increase in construction. Even during the Covid-19 crisis, roost construction was widespread across the country. Despite this remarkable growth, it hasn’t been sufficient to fully meet the market demand, particularly from high-demand regions like Hong Kong and mainland China.

As for the number of nesting roosts in Cambodia, we currently lack demographic data and have only limited estimates, with some suggesting there might be approximately 5,000 nesting roosts. We have not allocated a budget to conduct surveys at this point.

How easy is it for people to construct roosts, and in which specific regions or provinces do most of the breeding activities take place?

Creating a swiftlet farm requires specific temperature conditions, much like Cambodia’s hot and humid climate. It’s worth noting that swiftlets thrive at a particular temperature, roughly around 31 degrees Celsius. Cambodia enjoys several advantages in this regard, with abundant resources such as lakes and forests, which serve as food sources for swiftlets. Additionally, our country maintains lower pollution levels compared to others.

Consequently, there’s an ample food supply for swiftlets, making the construction of nesting houses a potentially successful endeavour, provided we adhere to the right techniques.

How much financial investment is needed to establish a nesting roost?

Constructing a nesting roost can vary in cost, depending on the builder’s preferences. Typically, for a standard, albeit relatively small roost, the expenditure can exceed $50,000, excluding land costs. On the other hand, constructing larger roosts, reaching four to five storeys in height, may require a budget of up to $500,000.

Before venturing into this field, what challenges should individuals anticipate, and what specific knowledge should they seek out?

The failure rate for entering this sector is notably high, not just in Cambodia but in other regions as well. This is often due to underestimating the complexity of swiftlet raising, which some initially perceive as straightforward. In reality, it demands a thorough analysis of factors like geographical location, roost density, and the flight patterns of swiftlets.

These studies involve technical aspects, while some even incorporate Feng Shui principles. Based on the study data, whether in Cambodia, Vietnam, or Malaysia, the failure rate can be as high as 80 per cent if one doesn’t carefully consider these factors.

To which nations does Cambodia export its edible bird’s nest products?

In terms of the market, China stands as the largest consumer of processed edible bird’s nests. In the near future, possibly by the end of this year, we anticipate a formal agreement that will pave the way for Cambodian edible bird’s nest products to enter the Chinese market officially. This development is expected to drive up the price of edible bird’s nests, as we’ll have the opportunity to export directly.

Currently, unprocessed edible bird’s nests are exported directly to markets including Vietnam and Thailand, with some reaching China. However, it’s essential to note that these exports to China are unofficial, as we have yet to establish a formal agreement and obtain clearance from Chinese customs.

In terms of exports, our association maintains a close collaboration with edible bird’s nest buyers and producers. Our focus is on ensuring that we adhere to strict standards in the production process. When we consistently produce edible bird’s nests to these high standards, it also ensures that the subsequent processing meets those same exacting criteria.

Additionally, we have established partnerships with several ministries, including the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Commerce. Our collective efforts are geared towards advocating for the development of a national policy dedicated to the export of edible bird’s nests. This collaboration is showing promise, with the commerce ministry committing to actively promote this initiative, recognising the enormous potential of edible bird’s nest products as a significant export commodity.

What are the key challenges encountered in the practice of swiftlet raising?

Today, a significant challenge in swiftlet raising lies in the technical aspects of both raising and processing for export. Particularly in the area of export processing, we encounter hurdles due to our limited experience compared to other countries with a longer history in swiftlet farming. In Cambodia, we’ve only ventured into this business in the last decade.

In terms of promoting the edible bird’s nest production business, what specific appeals are you making to stakeholders, including the new government?

I’d like to put forward a proposal to the new government, outlining how we can boost and facilitate the edible bird’s nest production industry. This includes creating an export policy similar to other nations, fostering competition, and ensuring favourable market prices. Such measures could not only benefit producers but also generate significant income for the government through edible bird’s nest exports. Additionally, our association seeks support for export processes when they become feasible.

I’d also like to convey a message to swiftlet raisers about the promising future of edible bird’s nest products. Our association is actively working on a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Bank of China to offer preferential interest rates on loans. This partnership aligns with the bank’s support for swiftlet-raising projects aimed at export. In the near future, when this MoU comes into effect, processors and exporters will have the opportunity to secure loans from this bank, facilitating their operations in processing and exporting to China.

To those considering entering this business, it’s crucial not to underestimate its complexity; it involves meticulous technical aspects that require careful study. Within the Khmer Swiftlet Association, we have a pool of experts readily available to provide guidance and address inquiries. Our Telegram group comprises members with extensive breeding experience spanning many years. They actively exchange knowledge and share their breeding techniques, creating a supportive community for swiftlet raisers.