Rattan Exports Hampered by Bureaucracy

Cambodia still has a long way to go before its rattan sector is sustainable and the product is profitable to export, the WWF and industry experts said Thursday at the launch of Cambodia’s first comprehensive book on rattan species in the Mekong region.

Speaking at the event in the Imperial Garden Villa and Hotel, chairman of the Rattan Association of Cambodia, Lip Cheang, said a pilot project to export rattan to Vietnam revealed that government bureaucracy, poor infrastructure and illegal trading at the borders are hampering what could be a thriving industry to rival the world’s biggest rattan producer, Indonesia.

The rattan association exported five tons of semi-finished product—cane that is ready to be woven into furniture and other handicrafts—worth $9,000 to one of Vietnam’s largest natural fiber manufacturers, Vinh Long JSC. It took nearly eight months for the necessary documents and licenses to be obtained to export the rattan, which Mr. Cheang said is too long.

“The time it takes to get the licenses can result in the product’s quality deteriorating because it’s left unattended. The rattan can also be damaged by insects. The cost of transportation is also too high which can lower profits…. We need to learn from our neighbors on how to export more efficiently.”

Cambodia’s domestic rattan industry generates $1.5 million per year, a fraction of the estimated $4 billion global value. One ton of semi-processed rattan is worth about $2,500, according to the association, and there are about 15,000 hectares in the country that are harvestable.

Cambodia has 20 known rattan species, which can be used to make furniture, food and traditional medicine, and mainly grow in Kampot, Preah Sihanouk, Koh Kong, Kompong Thom, Preah Vihear, Kompong Speu and Kratie provinces.

Ethical rattan harvesting is central to the industry’s sustainability, which the new book entitled “Systematics, Ecology and Management of Rattans in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam,” aims to promote, said Chhith Sam Ath, country director for WWF-Cambodia.

An 8-year joint effort by the WWF and The New York Botanical Garden, the book demonstrates “that sustainable rattan management, production and trade is the only way to ensure the Mekong industry will continue to thrive into the future,” Mr. Ath said.

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