The bees are important in the pollination of flowering plants including agricultural crops like fruits and vegetables. Pollination is one of the most important mechanisms in maintaining and promoting biodiversity.

stingless bees philipines

Unfortunately, the numbers of pollinators are declining, a problem that continues to haunt the world apiculture industry, according to Dr. Cleofas R. Cervancia, president of Apimondia Regional Commision in Asia. Apimondia is the International Federation of Beekeepers’ Associations and other organisations working within the apiculture sector.

“We have what we call the colony collapse disorder (CCD) a phenomenon in which worker bees from a beehive or honeybee colony abruptly disappears. In our case, this is because of the problems associated with the introduced bee species, Apis mellifera that is used in commercial beekeeping.This bee species that we import to produce honey becomes too susceptible to pests and diseases,” reported Dr. Cervancia.

She also revealed that although beekeeping is a viable industry in the country, it could hardly take-off because the culture of this bee species requires high inputs due to the use of miticides and antibiotics. Farmers can hardly afford the necessary supplies and equipment. “Also, Apis mellifera is not sustainable since we have to import the queens from abroad due to the narrow gene pool of this species in Asia,” she added.

Dr. Cervancia mentioned that given the right strategy and interventions, beekeeping can be a promising endeavor. “Currently, we are importing around 300 metric tons of honey but our production is only about 100 metric tons. So we can clearly see the Hence, we are obligated to increase the production to meet the needs and demands.
Promoting the local bees

Given the intensified support of the government in promoting beekeeping and its promotion, Dr. Cervancia believes that interest in beekeeping remains high, “but the cost of re-stocking bees and equipment proved to be prohibitive.”

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 the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) with funding support from the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) under its National Technology Commercialization Program (NTCP).

The project, led by Dr. Cervancia is promoting the use of local bee species: Apis cerana (also or laywan), Apis dorsata (giant bees or pukyutan), and more importantly, Trigona spp. (stingless 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 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 considered this a milestone and referred 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,” explained Dr. Cervancia.

She also reported that among the native species that the project is pursuing, the stingless bees produce the highest propolis. “Propolis has high clinical value and amongst 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 the apitherapy wherein they extract flavonoids and phenolics from the propolis and used 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 prospect of propolis as a component in medicine is bright. “Here in the Philippines, propolis is used as component for soaps and shampoo. It also used in toothpaste. So, in almost every high end product being sold in the market, almost all of them have propolis as component,” she added.

On top of these profitable products from the stingless bees, they are also the number one pollinator of mango trees. “That is also why we developed this technology and is now being commercialized as it was proven that it could increase the yield of mango by 80 percent,” mDr. 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 potenatial of stingless as pollinator of other high value crops.

One important component of the project is the establishment of a techno demo farm/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,” stressed Dr. Cervancia.

Ms. Luz Z. Gamba, owner of a well-known apiary farm, Balay Buhay sa Uma in Brgy. San Roque, Sorsogon, also a beneficiary of the project, testified how establishing a demo farm on beekeeping was able to help her succeed.

Balay sa Uma is one of the established techno demo farm on beekeeping which include mostly of local bee species like the stingless. “Because I don’t have the know-how and I lack the technology, I got discouraged at first but when I learned beekeeping the right way and I am starting to earn and profit from it, it felt good. Also, many people came to know our farm so they come here to learn,” said Ms. Gamba.

She also mentioned the advantage of culturing stingless bees. “The stingless are good pollinators of our crops in the farm. Even our neighboring communities benefit from these pollinators. Their coconut plantations and fruits trees, even though they are not planted here in the farm their yield and increased,” she added.

Bee product processing is also an important component. This involves processing products from the bees including the use of propolis in cosmetics and medicine. For this component, Dr. Cervancia reiterated the importance of providing process standards to ensure that processing the products is hygenic and has followed protocols. ###

by Rita T. dela Cruz,