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Exploring Stingless Bee Farming in the Philippines

The declining population of pollinators has emerged as a global concern, impacting ecosystems and agricultural production. The apiculture industry faces numerous challenges, notably colony collapse disorder (CCD), attributed to the susceptibility of introduced bee species, Apis mellifera, to pests and diseases. Dr. Cleofas R. Cervancia, President of the Apimondia Regional Commission in Asia, recognizes the need for innovative strategies to revitalize beekeeping in the Philippines. This article explores the promising alternative of stingless bee farming (Tetragonula biroi) and its potential to transform the country’s beekeeping industry.

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Philippine native stingless bees

Challenges of Conventional Beekeeping

The Philippines imports around 300 metric tons of honey annually, while local production remains at only about 100 metric tons. This disparity in supply and demand has prompted a push for sustainable and cost-effective beekeeping practices that cater to local needs. Dr. Cervancia identifies the primary issue with the conventional approach – the reliance on Apis mellifera. This bee species requires high inputs, including miticides and antibiotics, which local farmers find financially burdensome. Moreover, due to the limited gene pool of Apis mellifera in Asia, queens must be imported from abroad, further complicating the industry.

Promoting Local Bee Species

To address these challenges, the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) initiated the project, “Commercialization of Beekeeping Technologies: Product Processing and Bee Production in Select Communities in Luzon,” with funding support from the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR). Dr. Cervancia leads this project, which promotes local bee species, such as Apis cerana, Apis dorsata, and stingless bees, specifically Trigona spp.

Stingless Bee Farming and the Bees of the Future

Among the native bee species, stingless bees, locally known as lukot or lukutan, have emerged as a game-changer. Dr. Cervancia refers to them as the “Bee of the Future” for various compelling reasons. Stingless bees are abundant in the wild and offer a multitude of viable products, such as honey, pollen, and propolis. Their honey is in high demand and commands a premium price. Additionally, they produce the highest quality propolis, a substance with remarkable clinical value. Propolis is rich in anti-fungal and antibacterial properties, making it valuable in medicine. In countries like Korea and Japan, propolis extracts are used in apitherapy to treat cancer patients. While research is ongoing, the potential for propolis in medicine is bright. In the Philippines, propolis is utilized in various high-end products, including soaps, shampoos, and toothpaste.

Stingless Bees as Exceptional Pollinators

Stingless bees are valuable not only for their bee products but also for their exceptional pollinator role. They are crucial in pollinating mango trees, contributing to an astonishing 80 percent increase in mango yields. This positive result has further explored their potential as pollinators for other high-value crops, including pili, rambutan, and lansones.

Establishing Techno Demo Farms and Apiaries

A key component of the project is the establishment of techno demo farms and apiaries, showcasing sustainable and profitable beekeeping practices. Dr. Cervancia emphasizes the importance of these demo farms, as they act as real-life examples of success that inspire and educate potential beekeepers. These farms are more effective than traditional training methods because they prove that beekeeping can be lucrative.

Luz Z. Gamba, owner of the renowned apiary farm “Balay Buhay sa Uma” in Brgy. San Roque, Sorsogon, is a beneficiary of this project. She shares her journey, highlighting the impact of establishing a demo farm on beekeeping. Balay sa Uma primarily focuses on local bee species, particularly stingless bees. Ms. Gamba’s experience underscores the importance of knowledge and technology in making beekeeping profitable. The success of her farm not only brought her financial gain and attracted others who wished to learn and replicate her methods.

Boosting Crop Yields Through Pollination

Stingless bees have proven to be exceptional pollinators, benefiting beekeepers and neighboring communities. They have been shown to significantly increase the yield of various crops, including coconut plantations and fruit trees. As stingless bees visit these crops, they facilitate efficient pollination, resulting in higher yields and improved fruit quality.

Hygienic Processing of Bee Products

The project also emphasizes the hygienic processing of bee products, particularly the utilization of propolis in cosmetics and medicine. Establishing process standards ensures that bee-derived products meet hygiene and quality requirements. This aspect is crucial to maintaining bee products’ integrity and guaranteeing their safety and efficacy, especially when used in medical and cosmetic applications.

Frequently Asked Questions About Stingless Bees in the Philippines

Stingless bees in the Philippines are becoming a popular subject of interest for beekeepers and nature enthusiasts alike. These unique native bee species offer a range of benefits, from pollination to valuable bee products. Here are some frequently asked questions about stingless bees in the Philippines:

1. What are stingless bees?

Stingless bees, also known as Trigona bees or meliponines, are a diverse group of native bees found in various world regions, including the Philippines. Unlike the more familiar honeybee species, stingless bees are smaller and, as their name suggests, lack a stinger.

2. Where are stingless bees found in the Philippines?

Stingless bees are found throughout the Philippines, particularly in forests, gardens, and rural areas. Different species can be found in various regions of the country.

3. What is the significance of stingless bees in the Philippines?

Stingless bees play a crucial role in pollination, benefiting both wild and cultivated plants. They are especially effective pollinators for various crops, including mangoes, pili nuts, and other high-value agricultural products.

4. Are stingless bees easy to keep for beekeeping purposes?

Stingless bees are relatively easy to keep compared to honeybees. They are non-aggressive and do not sting, making them more approachable for beekeepers and less likely to threaten humans.

5. What bee products can be obtained from stingless bees in the Philippines?

Stingless bees produce many valuable bee products, including high-quality honey, propolis with medicinal properties, and pollen. These products have numerous commercial and health applications.

6. How do stingless bees differ from other bee species?

Stingless bees differ from honeybees in several ways. They are smaller, do not have a stinger, and live in smaller colonies. Their honey and bee products are distinct in flavor and quality.

7. Is it legal to keep stingless bees in the Philippines?

In the Philippines, keeping stingless bees is generally legal, but checking local regulations and obtaining any necessary permits before establishing a beekeeping operation is essential.

8. What are the benefits of stingless beekeeping for farmers and communities?

Stingless beekeeping can provide an additional source of income for farmers and rural communities. The bees’ effective pollination services also contribute to improved crop yields.

9. How can I start stingless beekeeping in the Philippines?

To start stingless beekeeping, you’ll need to learn about the specific species found in your region, their behavior, and nesting habits. Joining local beekeeping associations and seeking guidance from experts or government agricultural agencies can be valuable.

10. Are there any ongoing research or development projects related to stingless bees in the Philippines?

Yes, there are research and development projects, such as the one led by Dr. Cleofas R. Cervancia mentioned in the previous article. These projects aim to promote stingless beekeeping and provide local beekeepers support, training, and technology.

11. Can stingless beekeeping help conserve native bee species in the Philippines?

Yes, stingless beekeeping can play a role in conserving native bee species by raising awareness about their importance and encouraging their protection. The practice also promotes sustainable beekeeping methods that don’t harm wild populations.

12. What challenges do stingless beekeepers face in the Philippines?

Some challenges stingless beekeepers face include disease management, climate-related issues, and competition for forage resources with wild colonies. Access to knowledge and resources to support stingless beekeeping is also challenging for many.

Conclusion

Stingless beekeeping in the Philippines presents exciting opportunities for agriculture, biodiversity conservation, and economic growth. By learning more about these unique native bees and their care, beekeepers can contribute to both environmental sustainability and the prosperity of local communities.

Stingless bee farming in the Philippines is emerging as a sustainable and economically viable alternative to traditional beekeeping practices. The indigenous stingless bee species offer abundant honey and high-quality propolis and play a crucial role in pollination, enhancing crop yields. With the support of initiatives like the project led by Dr. Cleofas R. Cervancia, beekeepers in the Philippines are learning to embrace these local bee species as the “Bees of the Future.” By doing so, they contribute to biodiversity and ecological balance and improve their livelihoods and the well-being of their communities. Stingless bee farming represents a promising and sustainable future for beekeeping in the Philippines.

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