Opened with cooperation from a wildlife conservation group and an artisan organization, the Rattan Association of Cambodia hopes to fill a gap in international demand for the material.
“If we want to export, we need a large amount of rattan,” said Ou Ratanak, head of the World Wildlife Fund’s rattan project. “So the association can deal with it. Moreover, [members] can share their experiences regarding design and quality.”
The association would take care natural rattan is not destroyed and new rattan is grown for sustainable use. It would also provide knowledge and new experiences in technical assistance, trade, and international market searches.
More than 20 species of rattan grow naturally in Cambodia. The vine has a small leaf and sharp thorns and grows on mountainsides. Much of the country’s natural rattan, however, has been depleted for export to Vietnam and Thailand.
From 1998 to 2006, an estimated 3,000 tons of rattan were illegally exported to Vietnam, and another 12,000 tons to Thailand, according to the WWF.
In 2008, the WWF created a community project to protect rattan in Kampot province, with the project expanding into Preah Sihanouk, Koh Kong, Kampong Thom and Preah Vihear provinces. Prek Tnorth, in Kampot, is growing rattan on 25 hectares of land.
Rattan is used in the production of furniture popular in Europe, the US and Canada, with production and trade valued at $4 billion a year, Ou Ratanak said. Indonesia is responsible for 80 percent of world export; Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam also export rattan products.
Cambodia has yet to find an international market, and only 800 families in Kampot benefit from planting the vine and producing furniture from it for markets in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. The community harvests more than half a ton of rattan per month, producing around 50 table and chairs.
“The quality is still poor, lacking in design skill, and we always produce the same model,” said Men Sineoun, president of the Artisan Association of Cambodia, which is also supporting the project. “We have no skill in marketing and communication, and we have no skill in exporting.”
Tep Asnarith, a spokesman for the WWF, said rattan furniture producers in Cambodia don’t yet follow an environmental policy required by international buyers. However, it is hoped the new association can help ensure high-quality production and other competitive advantages.
Kun Thorn, president of Kun Bun Lang Furniture, said he believed the association can boost exports, and the WWF hopes to export half the rattan produced in Cambodia to Europe, the US and Japan by 2015.
Lao Sethalphal, deputy director for the legal department of the Ministry of Agriculture’s forestry administration, said the success of rattan on the international market will improve the economies of rural communities and provide a better living to rural people.