The Largest Exporter of Bird’s Nest

Posted on February 7th, 2011 at 7:39 am by Farah Fitriani


The tiny port of Kumai on the southern tip of Indonesian Borneo is a burgeoning trade centre in one of the world’s most valuable animal products – the nests used for bird’s nest soup”.

Drab concrete buildings have sprouted up all across Kumai, towering above the traditional low-rise shop-houses. The buildings have no windows – instead they have many tiny holes. They are in fact birdhouses, or more accurately, bird’s nest factories.

Kumai’s human population is about 20,000. Its population of swiftlets – the tiny birds whose nests are so valuable to the Chinese – must be 10 times that number. They cover the sky, thrashing about and letting out screeches that are audible in every part of town.

an example of bird's nest soup

The edible nests, which the birds make from their saliva, have been a part of Chinese cookery for more than 1,000 years. The edible bird’s nests are among the most expensive animal products consumed by humans. They can be used in sweet or savoury dishes, but most often as bird’s nest soup.

The dark damp caves of South East Asia’s tropical regions provide the natural habitat for the swiftlets. Indonesia has many such caves, and has a long history in the bird’s nest trade. As far back as the 17th Century there are records of the trade in the archipelago. For most of that time, the nests were collected from caves by skilled climbers using flimsy bamboo trellises.

According to local legend, the practice of farming the birds in houses grew up accidentally several generations ago, when a local landowner in Sedayu, in East Java, left his house to go on the Hajj pilgrimage, says Ani Mardiastuti, from Bogor Agricultural University.

“He went to Hajj for several months, and some of his rooms were closed. When he came back from Hajj, he found that the swiftlets had been using his rooms for nesting,” she says. ”Later on, he imitated the condition of the swiftlet room in other rooms, and he succeeded, so inventing the technique to farm the swiftlet.”

Bird's Nest is being harvested in Kumai

Bird farmers are still notoriously secretive about how they attract the animals – but part of the method appears to be playing recordings of the swiftlets’ song. Reports abound of industrious Indonesians trying anything from lucky charms to casting spells in an effort to lure the birds into their buildings.

But for much of the 20th Century the trade was relatively small, and was dominated by traditional nest collectors. China’s authoritarian Communist ruler Mao Zedong denounced the soup as a decadent luxury, so almost the entire world market was in Hong Kong.

The soup only started to regain popularity on the mainland during the 1990s, but experts say it has now overtaken Hong Kong as Indonesia’s main export market. As demand has risen, concrete birdhouses have been erected throughout Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and most recently Cambodia.

Bird's Nest in a shop in Hongkong

The surge in demand has forced the prices up from about $400 (£250) a kilo (the equivalent of about 120 nests) in the mid-1990s to $3,000 a kilo for the highest quality nests on today’s market. Indonesia reportedly made $226m in 2009 from the industry, and dominates the world market.

Hong Kong and the United States are the largest importers of these nests. In Hong Kong a bowl of Bird Nest Soup would cost $30 USD to $100 USD. A kilogram of white nest can cost up to $2,000 USD, and a kilogram of “red blood” nest can cost up to $10,000 USD. The white nests are commonly treated with a red pigment, but methods have been developed to determine an adulterated nest.

News Source : BBC, wikipedia

Photo Source : delish, bradpictures, worldinterestingfacts, BBC

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