The agriculture ministry and an institution under the commerce ministry based in Xiamen city, Fujian province, China have entered into a partnership to pave the way for the export of Cambodian edible bird’s nest products to China and establishment of a domestic processing plant for the commodity in the near future.

Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Veng Sakhon and the director of Cambodia (Xiamen) Commercial Center – the Cambodia Commercial Center’s representative arm in the southeastern coastal Chinese city – signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to this effect at the ministry on August 8, according to a statement posted on the minister’s official Facebook page.

Edible bird’s nest, known for its healing qualities in traditional Chinese medicine, is made from the dried saliva of the white-nest swiftlet (Aerodramus fuciphagus), a native of Southeast Asia.

The minister noted in the statement that the Xiamen centre has been working with the ministry’s General Directorate of Agriculture (GDA) to promote and support bird’s nest products, seeking to take them beyond domestic markets and limited informal exports.

The MoU will provide an avenue for gaining access to the Chinese market, contingent upon general adherence to product quality and health safety regulations, production standards, and phytosanitary requirements, as dictated by Chinese Customs, the statement said.

The Xiamen centre is also working with Southeast Yandu (Xiamen) Industrial Development Co Ltd on plans to build infrastructure in Cambodia for the procurement and processing of edible bird’s nests for export to China, it said, adding that the centre is also keen to lend a hand to the Kingdom and Chinese Customs in the anticipated negotiations.

The blossoming number of man-made swiftlet home keepers prompted the agriculture ministry to set up a technical working group in late July to negotiate the export of bird’s nests to China, in view of its growth potential and value in the market.

Although admittedly unaware of the details of the MoU, Cambodia Swiftlet Federation (“CSF”) president Nang Sothy told The Post on August 9 that the official direct export of edible bird’s nests to China will bring lots of positive effects to the Kingdom, including job creation, greater income growth and bigger markets, due to the prevalent penchant for bird’s nest products among Chinese consumers.

“Owners of swiftlet homes tend to have high expectations for formal exports to China, as they will receive higher prices and larger orders, while Cambodia’s geographical location is more favourable for swiftlet raising,” he said.

Sothy also revealed that unofficial bird’s nest exports from Cambodia to China are to the tune of “several tonnes” each year, adding that the Kingdom also ships the commodity to Europe, Japan, the US and other destinations.

Lim Vathanak, owner of “Khmer Natural Bird’s Nest” which operates in Sre Ambel district, Koh Kong province and Veal Rinh commune, Preah Sihanouk province, confirmed that the number of keepers has been on a recent growth streak, buoyed by expectations that China will give the green light to exports.

“We really want to have an official export market to China, because the market now is not all that wide – the price of the edible bird’s nests is not very high,” he lamented.

Currently, uncleaned bird’s nests cost an average of $700-800 per kilogramme while cleaned ones cost $1,800-2,000, depending on its size and quality, according to Vathanak.

Citing data from the ministry’s Forestry Administration, the GDA reported that there were 872 swiftlet homes in Cambodia in 2020, each on average able to produce between one and 1.5 tonnes of edible bird’s nests per month.

CSF’s Sothy claims that 100-200 new man-made swiftlet homes may be built each year. He also reported that, on the international market, uncleaned bird’s nests cost an average of $550-750 per kilogramme while cleaned ones cost $1,500-3,500, depending on its size and quality.