Lucrative bird’s nest industry taking flight within Cambodia

|     Hin Pisei     |

PHNOM PENH (The Phnom Penh Post/ANN) – They may look like abandoned concrete buildings from the outside, but facilities for the production of bird’s nests have been materialising in growing numbers along Cambodia’s coast.

The four- or five-storey structures often sit at the foot of mountains in seaside provinces of Koh Kong, Kampot and Preah Sihanouk.

Bird songs are even piped in with speakers to attract more swallows.

As the value of bird’s nests has increased, more than 100 of these swallow homes have been built this year, said Cambodia Bird’s Nest Federation (CBNF) President Nang Sothy.

Until now, domestic production of bird nests did not have an official export market as vendors bought the stock and sold it around Asia.

Several bird’s nests are among the rafters in a nesting house. – THE PHNOM PENH POST/ANN

Sothy said after a long period of silence, swallow-raising started seeing an increase since the beginning of last year. He cited the rising price as the cause for the recent surge in Cambodia.

Unclean nuggets sold last year, he said, could fetch between USD600 and USD650 per kg. But now, it can reach between USD850 and USD1,100 per kg.

Cleaned bird’s nests, which could be sold for USD1,500 last year, can now be sold for as much as USD3,000.

“Market demand and price increases have led to more than 100 swallow houses being built across the country this year,” he said.

While there is no specific data on the number of swallow houses in the country, Sothy said it could be anywhere from 800 to 1,500.

He said most were run by smallholders and were located in Preah Sihanouk, Koh Kong, Kep and Kampot province.

Bird’s nests have always commanded high demand in China, where people buy them for use in skincare, anti-cancer regiments and as a treatment for impotence.

According to Sothy, the Kingdom could harvest at least 800-1,500kg of bird’s nest a month and around 70 per cent could be exported after fulfilling domestic demand.

Despite having a bird’s nest federation that was established in 2014, exports have been facilitated unofficially through private traders.

Buth Rathany, who owns the 389 Bird’s Nest shop in the capital, said sales this year had nearly doubled compared to last.

“I have observed that many Cambodians now enjoy having products made from bird’s nests,” she said.

A swallow raiser in Kampot province who asked not to be named said she is also benefitting from the price increase. She could sell nests for around USD1,800 per kg, whereas last year a kg went for around USD1,500.

Director-General of the General Department of Agriculture at the Ministry of Agriculture Hean Vanhan said the ministry does not have any details about the bird’s nest market.

“Recently, we launched the market for exporting bananas to China, so there will be markets for other products opening up in the future,” he said.

The Post previously reported that data from 2016 showed that the global bird’s nest industry was estimated to have a value of USD5 billion annually. China is the largest consumer while Indonesia and Malaysia are leading suppliers.