A Guide to Beekeeping in the Philippines
Antonio D. Baconawa
The wise King Solomon said 2,000 years ago, "My son, eat thou honey, because it is good, and honeycomb, which is sweet to thy taste."
Before this the Lord of Israel told Moses to lead the Israelites, then slaves in Egypt, to a "land flowing with milk and honey."
Only in the middle of 1800s was man able to work with beehives, when Rev. Lorenzo Langstroth discovered the bee space for Apis mellifera. He invented the Langstroth hive. Since then, the beekeeping industry has grown by leaps and bounds.
Modern beekeeping (of Apis mellifera) was introduced by the Americans who came to the country. Based on the records this happened in 1913. But varroa mites, minor pests of Apis cerana and Apis dorsata (both indigenous honeybees) wreaked havoc on the hives and apiaries of Apis mellifera (foreign honeybees).
Later, some Filipinos and Filipino-Chinese ventured into beekeeping using foreign honeybees, but with little success. So, they raised the indigenous species like Apis cerana, known as laywan (Tagalog) or ligwan (Visayan), closely related to Apis mellifera. The native species builds multiple combs. In contrast, Apis dorsata builds single hanging combs. Apis cerana according to records was first framed during the year 1978. Thanks to the untiring efforts of the late Dr. Roberto Bongabong.
With limited literature about Apis cerana, the local beekeepers used the beekeeping technology for Apis mellifera, which is bigger than the former.
This method proved detrimental if not destructive to native honeybees, which have different characteristics and temperament from Apis mellifera.
Native honeybees are very aggressive, prolific swarmers, and abscond easily. They store little surplus honey (about 1- 10 kilos honey per colony), and have few worker bees (maximum of 10,000.)
In contrast, Apis mellifera is less aggressive, swarms slowly, stores up surplus honey 20- 100 kilos), and keeps up to 60,000 worker bees in one colony.
The foreign method of harvesting honey is destructive to native species such as Apis cerana. In this method, the frames containing both honey and brood combs are pulled and violently shaken to drive off the clinging bees.
Shaking the frames sends the worker bees and sometimes the queen crashing down to the floor of the hive. The fall injures or impairs the bees. The less injured bees go on a stinging frenzy and attack even the beekeeper. These stingers usually die minutes later because the sting and parts of the bee's intestines stick to the victim's skin.
Apis cerana is the first known species of honeybee to be cultured. This is based on a thousand-year-old mural found in an Indian cave. But, the culture still needs to be improved today. The technology is similar to that used for Apis mellifera.
The body size and population of Apis cerana differs from that of the Apis mellifera. Hence, it is imperative that a different technology must be used on Apis cerana.
Apis cerana is hived in boxes with frames similar to those used for Apis mellifera. It has bee space that measure about 0.5 cm. The bee space used for Apis mellifera is about 0.95 cm. The frames in the hives for both species are arranged horizontally, duplicating the combs of wild species.
In a technology developed by this author - Baconawa Apis Cerana Technology (BACT) - the aggressive behavior of Apis cerana is minized, if not eliminated. It also cuts down the weekly inspections (the pulling of frames inside the hives.) It hastens (without destroying the combs) the harvesting of honey, pollen, royal jelly, etc., and minimizes the building of combs for honey storage. Hence, this technology will increase the production of honey. Bees consume 10 kilos of honey to produce one kilo of wax.
When an Apis cerana colony is disturbed, worker bees stop collecting nectar, pollen and water. Subsequently, the queen stops its egg-laying activities.
A single worker bee produces 1/10 to 1 ml of honey during its lifetime. Thus, disrupting the colony can lead to low honey, pollen, royal jelly and wax production, to name a few.
Coconut Plantation: A Haven for Honeybees
More than half of the three million hectares of coconut plantations in the Philippines are bearing. Coconut trees bear flowers and fruit year-round. For this reason, honeybees, particularly, Apis cerana tend to build their colonies in coconut plantations.
The amount of swarming (division of colonies) is pronounced during toddy tapping in the plantation. Bees are very much attracted to the taste and smell of coconut nectar.
A beekeeper from Tagum, Davao del Norte said a colony of foreign honeybees can gather 8 - 10 kilos of coconut nectar in one day.
Beekeeping under coconuts can boost the coconut farmer's earning by an average of Php 100,000 (about $ 2,000) a hectare per year.
In the culture of honeybees in coconut plantation, the spadix (inflorescent) should be allowed to secrete nectar during the day. Then, this is gathered at night and fed to the bees in the morning. The coconut nectar that cannot be consumed by the bees may be processed into native wine (tuba) or vinegar.
Half of the sliced spadix can be opened so it can still produce nuts to be processed into copra, candies, and other by-products.
Studies made by the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) show that half of the length of coconut spadix can be tapped without significant effect on its production of nuts. A spadix has thousands of flowerets in it, but only 10 to 15 develop into nuts.
A coconut tree produces an average of 1 liter of coconut nectar, which has 15 percent sucrose and 5 percent or more of dry matter. It can support the nectar needs of two strong Apis cerana colonies. A colony of this species has the potential to produce 15 - 30 kilos of honey from a single coconut tree.
Based on this estimate, a coconut farmer can earn an additional income of Php 100,000 a hectare from his honey, pollen, royal jelly and wax.
Honeybee Pollination Increases Crop Yield
Studies conducted locally and abroad show that honeybee pollination increases crop yield by up to 40 percent. In some plants (like sunflower), seeds are only produced when the flowers are cross-pollinated.
Cereal crops like corn and plants such as banana, mango, coconut, coffee, cacao, citrus, peanut, mongo, tomato, eggplant, etc. are favorites of honeybees. A marked increase in yield can be expected when these plants are pollinated by honeybees.
In the USA and other developed countries, farmers employ honeybees to pollinate their crops. This is one reason why these countries produce surplus crops for export.
Honey Better Than Refined Sugar
This country has thousands of hectares of sugarcane. But, most sugar farmers are financially broke because of the low price of sugar in the world market. The culture of honeybees should be able to alleviate this situation.
It has also been observed that honeybees visit the sugar mills during milling season. The late Dr. Bongabong, a pioneer in beekeeping once harvested over 10 kilos honey from a wild Apis cerana during the milling season. The bees nestled near a traditional sugar mill in Batangas. This yield is unusual for wild honeybees.
Most, if not all commercial beekeepers of Apis cerana in the southern Philippines feed their bees with refined sugar all year round. They sell comb honey with liquid honey packed in jars.
Some people think any sweeteners that pass through the digestive system of bees are considered natural honey. However, beekeepers of imported (Apis mellifera) species in the Philippines are protesting this method. To them, this kind of honey is artificial and should be labeled as such.
A hectare of a sugarcane farm can produce 80,000 kilos of sugarcane juice with 10 - 15 percent sucrose. Based on these computations, a beekeeper - sugar farmer may be able to harvest 2,600 - 4,000 kilos of honey per hectare. At a wholesale price of Php 100 per kilo, he can gross from Php 266,700 - 400,000 per hectare per year.
Marketing of Honeybee Products
At present, honey and other bee products are very expensive in the domestic markets. Honey sells for as much as Php 350 per kilo; beeswax at Php 500; royal jelly, Php 150 per 10 grams; pollen at Php 2,000 per kilo; Apis mellifera nucleus hive at Php 4,000; and Apis cerana hive fetches Php 2,500.
Local beekeepers who raise native or imported bees have no problem in marketing their produce. The demand for honey is still very high.
Usually, only people in the upper levels of society can afford to buy bee products. The other 30 percent of the population, which needs this nutritious food cannot buy it.
According to statistics, the country has been importing more than a billion dollars-worth of honey and bee products, from 1989 to the present. This shows a huge demand for honeybee products in the local market.
Honey is used mainly in the Philippines as a health food. Pharmaceutical companies utilize it as a base for cough syrups and energy drinks. Pollen and royal jelly are components of energy pills and capsules. Bee products are also used in beautifying agents by cosmetics companies.
Natural and Safe Bee Products
Apis cerana is not seriously affected by varroa mites. Hence, it has no need for pest control, which can contaminate bee products. With Apis mellifera, acaricides are needed to control these mites.
At present there is no known disease affecting Apis cerana; so, it has no need for antibiotics, miticides, nematocides, and the like.
An Endangered Species
Rampant cutting of forests and coconut trees may one day result in the extinction of the indigenous honeybees. The excessive use of insecticides on farm crops also kill these bees. Gone are the days when honey hunters could gather honey all year-round in the forests which once provided them with stable source of income.
The Role of the Government
In the early 1980s, the government embarked on a program to promote beekeeping. Coordinated by the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI), the drive, known as Pukyutang Barangay Program, did not flourish. It did not get enough backing from the government in terms of research and development and credit facilities.
The Role of the Private Sector
The current beekeeping industry in the country owes its success to the private sector, particularly, bee enthusiasts who carry out their own research and development work. They have invested a lot of money, effort and blood just to promote the industry.
For comments and inquiries you may write/visit him at 175 Aries Street, Pangarap Village, Caloocan City, Philippines.