The Economics of Bee Pollination in the Philippines (2002)
Antonio D. Baconawa

The plants and the bees were made for each other. Without each other the optimum development of one is at stake. Pollination is the transfer of pollen from the anther of the flower to the stigma. Self-pollination is the transfer of pollen from the anther to the stigma of the same flower. While on the other hand, cross-pollination is the transfer of pollen from the anther to the stigma of another flower.

Self-pollination if we will use human relationship analogy is incest. As we all know, the product of which is abnormalities, hence low productivity and inferior genetic quality. In contrast, cross-pollination is like crossbreeding in effect, it produces hybrid vigor or heterosis. When the bees are allowed to pollinate the crops cross-pollination is in effect, able to thus increase in production of up to 40% is a rule rather than an exception.

As an agent of pollination, bees compared to others (e.g. wind, water, etc.) are the most effective and efficient. They act similar to the penis of mammals, which is the means to inject the sperm to female reproductive system. Because of the vibration and combing activities of bees while visiting the flowers, the pollen (pollen is the counter-part of sperm), which is usually waxy and sticky, is directed to fall on the stigma (female part of the flower).

Social bees because of their sheer number are efficient pollinators compared to bats, birds, among others. Trigona colony has a maximum of 100,000 workers while Apis mellifera could have 60,000 maximum number of workers.

The Philippines has embarked on food security programs since the past administrations until the present dispensation. However, according to experts these programs fell short of expectations due to many factors such as inclement weather conditions, socio-political conflicts, pollutions, pests and diseases, lack of credit facilities, lack of post-harvest facilities, lack of plant nutrients, among other things. The experts always fail to identify the factor on lack of pollination.

This lack of awareness among experts and the general populace in the Philippines has really been taking its toll for several decades now, hence low productivity of crops in the country. Most of the crop experts are concentrated on the elimination of pests and diseases (which also eliminates the pollinators) and plant nutrition. Since the crop experts are focusing on the said factors there always remains a deficiency. The crops, particularly seed bearing plants, were deficient in yield by up to 40%.

The Pollination Industry in USA and Other Countries
As one Internet document from the USA would say, "If all the honeybees will cease to exist, 30% of the food that we eat will be gone." Another document from the Internet states that in the USA the value of crops pollinated by honeybees is placed at US$ 24 billion and the value of commercial bee pollination at US$ 10 billion. In Philippine peso the value of commercial bee pollination is about PhP 500 billion. The number of beehives they use for this pollination business is about 3 million. It is no wonder why USA could produce surplus of food, which they export. Honey production in the USA is valued only at US$ 285 million that is why more and more bee farmers are shifting to bee pollination business because the income is more stable and lucrative.

The pollination industry in USA is so highly mechanized that train trucks from state to state transport beehives and they are spread to plantations by forklifts and other contraptions. Fortunately, the experts in this country estimate that the cost of pollination to crop farmers is only 1% of the total value of their yield.

However, the spread of Africanized honeybees and varroa mites caused havoc to commercial bee industry in the USA. Varroa, in fact, almost cut into half the number of hives in this country during the middle of the 90's. Fortunately, they were able to invent miticides that are very effective which, in effect, benefited Philippine bee industry, so that some beekeepers now in the Philippines can maintain up to 1000 hives whereas before the discovery of the miticides beekeepers in this country could hardly maintain 50 hives.

Countries like Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, France, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, China, Argentina, Mexico, India, the Netherlands, Korea, Vietnam, to name a few, have developed the beekeeping industry, and in so doing their crop production has increased tremendously so that they have enough for their own consumption and for export. Take, for instance, Vietnam, which has 2 million hives of native and imported bees, this country boasts of the most productive crops in Southeast Asia.

In Israel the beekeepers therein were able to commercialize the culture of bumblebees for crop pollination, particularly for greenhouses. They export these bees throughout the world.

The fact is, there is no country on this planet that has productive crops without a developed beekeeping industry.

The State of Bee Pollination in the Philippines
Experts agree that in tropical countries most plants are entomophilous (dependent on insect pollination). However, it is sad to note that almost all tropical countries have underdeveloped beekeeping industries, including the Philippines.

Scientists from UPLB and CLSU conducted research on the value of bee pollination on crops and they are one in saying that bee pollination increased crop production by 30%. However, due to lack of awareness campaigns and lack of logistical support to farmers, bee pollination activities in the agricultural sector of this country is still wanting. A beekeeper in Silang, Cavite and this author (you may browse on for more details) are the only beekeepers in the Internet that offer pollination services for this country.

The Need to Develop Pollination and the Beekeeping Industry
The population of the Philippines is growing by 2.4 percent and as of present date the country has a little below 80 million people. We import a lot our of our foodstuffs, which drain our foreign exchange. We have a great number of unemployed and underemployed, especially in the countryside. If we start developing our indigenous bees like Trigona, which are very efficient and effective pollinators we could expect that, in just a few years crops productivity would bloom. These bees (Trigona spp.) seem to be better pollinators than the Apis species under Philippine conditions (See table below). These industries have export potentials; honeybee products are sought in international markets.

Pollinator bees, particularly Trigona, have great markets in Japan and Korea. These countries are now importing Trigona species from Australia . The Japanese are now appreciating the value of Trigona over the Apis spp. because most of the farms in this country are small, about 1.5 hectares. Japanese crop farmers are also wary of the stinging behavior of the Apis spp.

Countries in the west are also potential markets because their main pollinators, Apis spp., are on the decline due to varroa and other diseases. Beekeeping is a lucrative business that anyone, whether young and old could engage in.

In Taiwan, where beekeeping is very much developed beekeepers are making more money than those in the city

Comparative Analysis between Apis and Trigona as pollinators

Expensive at Php 2,500 - 10,000

  • Stings so therefore it needs expert management.
  • Maximum of 60,000 workers/hive.
  • High propensity to swarm, thus weakens the colony.
  • Absconding probability is high, especially Apis dorsata and Apis cerana.
  • Regular losses due to transport high because of swaying of combs
  • Foraging of workers is mainly for nectar since this genus prefers nectar over pollen.
  • Long distance forager up to five (5) km radius, which means spotty pollination.
  • Low tolerance to pest and diseases. Very susceptible to varroa, wax moth, birds, frogs, etc
  • Shorter working life up to 50 days/worker
  • Low tolerance to heat.
  • Difficult to transport hive of Apis mellifera with 30,000 workers weighs over 30 kilos.
  • Needs regular importation of Apis mellifera queens to avoid inbreeding.
  • Lesser bees per trip during transport because its box is larger. It measures 20"x 16"x 10"
  • Requires plenty of equipment like frames, wax foundation, queen excluder, smoker, honey extractor, protective clothing, etc.
  • Requires medication, ie, antibiotic, miticide...
  • Requires minimum of weekly inspection.
  • Requires maintenance feeding with sugar and pollen substitute during off-season, or when honey flow is low.
  • Robbing among colonies is common.

Affordable at Php 1,500 - 2,500

  • Non-stinger so that even kids can handle them.

  • Maximum of 100,000 workers /hive.
  • Very low propensity to swarm because it has more than two queens/colony.
  • Absconding remote

  • Losses due to transport low because brood combs are smaller and horizontally arranged.
  • Foraging of workers is mainly for pollen due to a very short tongue needed for gathering nectar.
  • Short distance forager up to 500 meter radius, thus more intensive pollination of crops near its hive.

  • High tolerance to pest and diseases due to smaller size and extensive use of propolis which serves as germicidal and pest repellant.
  • Longer working life up to 60 days/worker
  • Higher tolerance to heat due to their propolis canopy.
  • Easier to transport since fully grown hive weighs only 5 kilos.
  • No need for importation because the Philippines has 1,000 species of Trigona species.
  • More bees per trip during transport since its box is smaller. It measures 11"x 10"x 8"

  • There is need for only two boxes when being used for pollination.

  • No need for medication

  • Inspection is every three to four months
  • No need for maintenance feeding since they store surplus pollen throughout the year
  • Robbing is non-relevant

The Mayamang Masa Multi-Purpose Development Cooperative (MMMPDC) Bee Project -The author who is the manager of MMMPDC has been in beekeeping since 1981.

The father of the writer, Efren T. Baconawa (Chairman of MMMPDC) was an officer of Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) who was appointed Vice Chairman of the CBP - DA fund to launch the "Pukyutang Barangay Program" (an offshoot of Bakahang Barangay Program) in the early 80's. This program trained a lot of people from different Departments of the government.

At present, the MMMPDC chairman and this writer have embarked on promoting the Trigona species as pollinators since 1999. They found out that these bees are better pollinators than Apis species. In fact, they started with Apis mellifera, Apis cerana and had gone into some experimentations of domesticating Apis dosata during the 80's until now. However, since few years back when they discovered Trigona, they discovered a lot of good attributes of these bees. The only thing that is lacking in this bee is their inability to produce substantial amount of honey. Nevertheless, their pollen production is substantial at 6 kilos per year per hive.

For comments and inquiries
Write / visit the author at 175 Aries Street, Pangarap Village, Caloocan City, Philippines.