Sustainable product, sustainable consumer
Ms Nay Sikhoeun, Secretary of the Rattan Association of Cambodia, informed that during the fair One Village One Product, organized from 13th-15th May 2011 at Wat Botumwadey Park in Phnom Penh, rattan achieved interesting turnover with sales representing over a thousand US dollars cash. She was very happy that the rattan fair booth could attract so many people's attention.
"During three days, we saw more than 13,000 people directly visiting the rattan exhibition and more than a quarter of them purchased our products," she said. She explained that creative design and quality was the main reason why people were willing to pay a bit higher price if compared to what they used to pay about nearly three years ago.
Many commercial events like One Village One Product have so far provided good opportunties for small and medium enterprises owners of the rattan association to study Cambodia market trend for handicraft and other similar products. The events also offered the chance for marketing the works done by rattan producers, while creating networking opportunities with their counterparts, as well as potential buyers, NGO and government partners.
Based on observations by WWF's rattan project, many Cambodian consumers have realized about rattan's high flexibility, being a non-timer forest product type that can be diversified into many different kinds of furniture and accessory designs and is able to serve long-term use. The same observations suggest that consumers are willing to afford a higher price for a nice and quality product. For example, a furniture can now cost 20-40 percent higher than its orginal price, while an accessory like flowers basket costs 5-10 percent higher than before.
Mr Sovann Piseth, General Manager of Khmer Rajana Rattan Handicraft and a permanent member of the Rattan Association, informed that a visitor to the rattan booth at the fair later ordered four sets of swing chair to be made at his factory. "One set of swing chair with improved design and quality today costs 90 US dollars, when it was only 50 US dollars before," he explained.
Mr Mily Goodman, Marketing Officer with WWF's Rattan Project, said Cambodia market started to have a different view about the rattan product of today; before people bought rattan products because they were cheap, but right now consumers focus more on product quality and design, not the price. There were cases, he added, where people were ready to commit to changing their lifestyle by consuming rattan-based products for the replacement of wooden products.
Increased capacity and knowledge in processing rattan products to meet market trend standard enabled Cambodian producers to achieve diversity of creative and quality designs using environmentally-friendly production techniques: cleaner production method.
Sustainable design can be made in many different ways. New uses can be established for waste material to maximise the use of rattan resources, while creating emotional and high quality product designs motivates long-term interest and commitment from consumers.
WWF supports the development of the rattan industry in Cambodia through the sustainable rattan project, cofinanced by EU and IKEA. Established in 2009, the project has the objective to set-up a sustainable production system across the entire rattan value chain. The same year saw the WWF's supported establishment of the Rattan Association when 11 small and medium enterprises from across the country became members. With this producers body in place, one of the project's main activities is to improve the quality of Cambodia’s rattan products to high-end international standards for export.
While the aim is to export products to international markets, it is very important for the rattan producers to establish a solid foundation in their production mechanism.
"WWF works with the Rattan Association to estabish production linkages with other handcraft especially rattan producers, traders, local community processors and suppliers in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Kampong Thom, Preah Vihea, Preah Sihanouk and Kampot provinces in order to promote productivity," said Mr Ou Ratanak, WWF's Rattan Project Manager.
To build long-term commitment of producers to exercising sustainable production system, WWF also supports the Association in marketing aspects with implementation of a promotion program to reach potential buyers such as hotels, restaurants and furniture shops across the country.
If conduced sustainably, the rattan industry can provide financial incentives to maintain large protected forests, home of rattan.