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October-December 2013 Issue (Vol. 15 No. 4)

Rita T. dela Cruz

Beekeeping in the Philippines is a viable enterprise. It is an emerging industry that is seen to have the ability to address food security and provide income-generating opportunities to Filipinos. As one of the priority commodities under the DA’s High Value Commercial Development Program (HVCDP), beekeeping R&D interventions are being continuously introduced to contribute to the development of this thriving industry.

Despite the potentials of beekeeping, it could hardly take-off because growing bee species (pollinators) requires high inputs. Farmers can hardly afford the necessary supplies and equipment. Also, the use of the imported bee species, Apis mellifera, in commercial beekeeping, is not sustainable since we have to import the queens from abroad due to the narrow gene pool of this species in Asia.

But given an appropriate strategy and sustainable interventions, beekeeping can be a profitable endeavor. “Currently, we are importing around 300 metric tons of honey yearly but our production is only about 100 metric tons. So we can clearly see the discrepancy. We are therefore obligated to increase production to meet the needs and demands,” explained Dr. Cleofas R. Cervancia, president of Apimondia Regional Commission in Asia. Apimondia is the International Federation of Beekeepers’ Associations and other organizations that are working on apiculture.

The Bee Roadmap

The Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) and HVCDP led the conduct of two workshops for the crafting of the “Philippine Apiculture Status and Research and Development, and Extension (RD&E) Agenda 2012-2016”. The bee roadmap aims to strengthen and further promote beekeeping in the Philippines. It was participated in by concerned government agencies, research institutions, academe, non-government organizations, beekeepers, and other key players in the industry. The roadmap was developed in conjunction with the bee roadmap of the National Apiculture Research, Training and Development Institute (NARTDI) and was presented during the 2011 Beekeepers Network of the Philippines Foundation Inc. (BEENET) Conference and Technofora in Tagaytay City.

The Bee Roadmap follows a private sector-led and market-oriented approach and is to be implemented and monitored by the private sector in partnership with the government led by the Department of Agriculture (DA).

It envisions a profitable national bee industry that supports agriculture, forestry and biodiversity conservation and one that is capable of supplying quality bees and bee products to local and foreign markets. “The priority areas identified in the roadmap are in line with our economic and political agenda. Beekeeping is also hoped to enhance agricultural productivity through effective pollination of crop plants,” said BAR Director Nicomedes P. Eleazar.

By 2016, the industry targets a continuous supply of quality queen bees and bee stocks, increased production of quality bees and bee products, implementation of quarantine protocol for imported queen bees and bee products, and the provision of channels for financing the industry and research needs, among others.

“The Bee Roadmap shall be implemented and monitored by the private sector, in partnership with the DA, which shall closely take note of changes in the industry,” said Dr. Cervancia.

Capacitating Beekeepers

The University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) Bee Program, being the lead state university that is involved in the development of beekeeping in the Philippines, along with NARTDI, which is based at the Don Mariano Marcos Memorial State University (DMMMSU), is regularly conducting a week-long intensive course on beekeeping. The training course aims to improve bee culture practices and address issues of existing beekeepers, and encourage more participants in beekeeping.

Integrated into the course are theoretical and hands-on training aimed at further developing the participants’ capacity to produce quality bee products and at imparting practices that ensure sustainable bee colonies.

Topics include in-depth discussion of the basics of apiculture: bee species, definition of the products and jargon, materials for beekeeping, as well as the dos and don’ts in bee production. The course activities are facilitated by lecturers and experts on beekeeping.

The training is aimed towards capacitating farmers on breeding, bee management, as well as product development. Apart from this, the project aims to establish techno-demo apiaries to showcase good practices that will enable beekeepers to maximize their profit.

Projects sites in Quezon (Nakar and Narciso), Albay (Sorsogon and Albay), and Laguna (Los Baños and Calamba) served as learning grounds for existing and would-be beekeepers. Participants were also taught how to get the most out of bee by-products particularly beeswax, propolis, and pollen.

BAR continues to support research and development (R&D) initiatives directed at increasing profits of our farmers. Research institutions and academics with the capacity and knowledge to improve the farming practices are supported by institutions and agencies like BAR to translate plans aimed at attaining food security and sustainable living into reality.

Beekeeping R&D Projects

Since 2010, BAR, in collaboration with HVCDP, has been supporting R&D projects on beekeeping. To date, there are nine on-going projects being implemented.

A recently approved project is “Promotion of Beekeeping and Bee Product and By-Product Development” implemented by the Pampanga Agricultural College (PAC). It aims to upscale the PAC’s apiary for training, research and extension purposes, conduct relevant research on beekeeping, and extend beekeeping technologies to farmers through trainings. The project is targeting farmers and entrepreneurs residing in the vicinity of Mt. Arayat as beneficiaries.

Promoting the Local Bees

One of the R&D initiatives on beekeeping is the promotion of stingless bees. Although the interest in beekeeping is high and the enterprise is profitable, “the cost of re-stocking bees and equipment has proven to be prohibitive,” said Dr. Cervancia.

To address this, strategies and research and development activities have been developed through the project, “Commercialization of Beekeeping Technologies: Product Processing and Bee Production in Select Communities in Luzon”. The project is being implemented by the Bee Program of UPLB with funding support from BAR and HVCDP.

The project is promoting the use of local bee species: Apis cerana (locally called laywan), Apis dorsata (giant bees or pukyutan ), and more importantly, Trigona spp. (stingless bee or lukot). Promoting these local bee species is more sustainable and the farmers can easily adopt the technologies.

“That is why this is also the right time that we conserve our local species. We can get a lot of products from them, like honey, which has a very high demand, and others including pollen and propolis,” explained Dr. Cervancia.

Through the project, UPLB developed a package of technologies (PoTs) to strengthen the beekeepers’ capacity in managing these native bees.

Among the native bee species that the project is promoting are the stingless bees, (Trigona spp) locally known as lukot or lukutan. Dr. Cervancia considers its development as a milestone and refers to this local species as the “Bee of the Future”.

“Stingless are the bees of the future because growing them is sustainable. They are abundant in the wild and there are many viable products that we can produce out of them. For one, the honey from the stingless bees is quite expensive. We also have pollen and, most importantly, propolis,” she expounded.

Reports show that among the native species that the project is pursuing, the stingless bees produce the highest propolis. “Propolis has high clinical value and among the bee products, this is the only one with high anti-fungal and anti bacterial properties. Propolis is used in medicine. In Korea and Japan there is what we call apitherapy wherein they extract flavonoids and phenolics from the propolis and use this to treat cancer patients,” Dr. Cervancia said. Although the study according to her is still in progress and more studies are needed, the potential of propolis as a component in medicine is bright.

“Here in the Philippines, propolis is used as a component for soaps and shampoo. It is also used in toothpaste. So, in almost every high end product being sold in the market, almost all of them have propolis as a component,” she added.

On top of these profitable products from the stingless bees, they are also the number one pollinators of mango trees. “That is also why we developed this technology which is now being commercialized as it was proven that it could increase the yield of mango by 80 percent,” Dr. Cervancia revealed. Aside from mango trees, the Trigona spp is also a good pollinator of pili, rambutan, and lansones. Given this promising result, the group of Dr. Cervancia is looking into the potential of stingless bees as pollinators of other high value crops.

One important component of the project is the establishment of techno-demo farms/apiaries. “We are training trainors who can also reach out to other sectors of the community. It’s kind of a showcase. If people can see that the farm is earning, they will believe and they will be encouraged. To me, this is more effective than training,” Dr. Cervancia concluded. ###