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Volume 23 No. 4, 1995
Beekeeping as an extra source of income
By Henrylito Tacio
BEEKEEPING is an ancient art. Hieroglyphics on ancient tombs and monuments confirm its practice centuries ago. And the bee has been written about by Columella, Pliny,
Honey was the only sweetener used by Europeans until Alexander invaded the Near East and brought back the sugarcane plant. When Julius Caesar conquered Britain, he found the Britons keeping bees, even making fermented liquor using a mixture of honey and crushed wheat.
Until the middle of the last century, bees were kept only in a rudimentary fashion. There was little knowledge of the natural history of the bee or what went on in the interior of the beehives. Straw skeps, log gums, or rude box-hives housed bee colonies. But all that has changed with the development of the movable-frame hive, the bee comb foundation and the honey extractor. These devices have transformed beekeeping into a modern, efficient occupation.
Almost anyone can become a successful beekeeper. There are now hundreds of Filipinos who keep bees, and they find the endeavor fascinating. "Beekeeping could be a profitable Philippine venture," says Joel F. Magsaysay, who has been keeping bees since the late 1970s, "because of the country's mild climate and lush vegetation."
Beekeeping technology is fairly simple once you get to know basic bee behavior and the flowering seasons in your area.
After only six to 12 months, you can start harvesting honey," adds Magsaysay. "When you start harvesting, the maintenance cost becomes minimal. A novice in beekeeping can recoup his initial investment through sales of honey."
Aside from honey, beekeepers can also produce or extract such products as pollen, propolis, royal
jelly, beeswax, and bee venom. Pollen, the staple food of the honeybee, is considered the most complete natural food for man. It is rich in lecithin, protein, enzymes, and other nutrients. Propolis, also known as bee glue, is a sticky material that is used to plug the holes of the beehive. It contains a chemical that can be used as an anesthetic.
Royal jelly is a creamy liquid produced by the glands of the honeybee. Beeswax, a product of young honeybee workers, can be used as a waterproofing agent in leather and cotton strings, in making candles, and in hair and skin ointments.
Bee venom reportedly contains a substance that is very effective for arthritis and eye disease. But it is toxic in raw form.
According to Magsaysay, the domestic market for bee products – which exceeds daily sales of P 1 million – is already being developed and expanded. "Unfortunately," he says, "the market is mainly being supplied by importations."
Beekeeping not only produces products for human use. Because of the search of bees for pollen, it increases fruit, vegetable, nut and seed yield, increases seed viability and improves fruit set. It also helps propagate wild indigenous crops that can be used for plant breeding.
In addition, beekeeping helps displace pests, since bees compete with natural pests for food sources. "When a farmer raises bees in his farm, he should stop using pesticides, since these are also toxic to bees," adds Magsaysay. "Instead, he should adopt integrated pests management techniques."
Like any other venture, beekeeping has its drawbacks. Bad weather can affect nectar flow and a colony's growth. The bee has its enemies, as does any other animal. And people fear bee stings.
Because of these perceived disadvantages, not too many Filipinos have gone into beekeeping.
Numerous attempts at commercial beekeeping have been made since the 1920s, but even bee experts like Roger Morse of Cornell University failed to culture honeybees locally as a business. There is also a big lack of information about apiculture or beekeeping.
"I started literally from scratch," Magsaysay recalls. "Most of the technology I got from the existing literature was obsolete. I had to do my own experiments."
He found that the best bee to culture in the Philippines is the European honeybee (Apis mellifera). "I developed a technology that allowed me to build and develop major beekeeping operation," he says.
Magsaysay has been generously sharing his technology with other people. He serves as a consultant in apiculture throughout the country.
Organizations that he has trained and that now produce honey in commercial quantities are in Batac, Ilocos Norte; Bacnotan La Union; La Trinidad, Benguet; Baguio City; Indang, Cavite; Angadanan, Isabela; Naga, Camarines Sur; Cebu City and Tagum, Davao del Norte.
Magsaysay says that a few honeybees can be kept profitably in urban areas like Metro Manila since people can raise bees even if they do not own land. A colony of bees needs less than one square meter of space.
Greenfields readers who want to obtain plans on how to fabricate beehives, smokers and honey extractors among others, "with specifications that conform to international standards," can write to Magsaysay at this address: Ilog Maria Honeybee Farms, Silang, Cavite. "I will answer all letters," he says.
On harvesting, Magsaysay says it must coincide with the pollen and honeyflow seasons. "The foundation of successful beekeeping in the Philippines is the creation of a floral calendar that's particular to the area which you will keep bees," he says. Elaborating, he adds: There are periods in the year when plants and trees bloom profusely, providing an overabundance of nectar and pollen as
In Western Luzon, for example, there's a surplus of pollen flow from September to December. This is called brooding-rearing season. The surplus of nectar sources is called the honeyflow season.
"In the tropics, these seasons vary from plant to plant and from year to year. In the Philippines floral bloom is very area-specific. In Cavite, for example, coffee blooms from December to May, but in Mindanao it's year round."
Magsaysay says a beginner in beekeeping can produce 20 to 25 kilograms of honey per colony. "The more experienced beekeepers can harvest 30 to 40 kilograms. I can produce more than 100 kilograms."
Just how profitable is beekeeping? "A family who goes into it can earn an additional income of P4,000 to P5,000 per colony per year," he says.
There is a lot of local honey in the market. But some people stopped buying it after they bought fake or adulterated honey.
How does one know that the honey he buys is fake? A study conducted at the U.P. Los Banos shows that the amount of moisture in honey is a good indicator of its quality.
"Ideally, the moisture content must not be more than 21 percent," says Pacifico Payawal, head of the study, "Higher than this, say 31 percent, and the quality declines because the product will ferment. This is indicated by air bubbles and a sour taste."
Diastase content is another quality indicator. Honey contains diastase, an enzyme that breaks down starch into smaller components. An iodine test will show whether a commercial product is fake, or mostly sugar syrup, or has been stored for a llong time. If the product turns blue after the test, it has no diastase. But if it contains a good amount of diastase, it is true honey and newly harvested.
"There is a large domestic market for honey, but we need quality honey to satisfy local consumers," concludes Payawal. "Backyard bee farming could be a good source of extra income for our farmers."