By Mavic Conde

Luz Gamba-Catindig of Sorsogon in the Bicol Region simply wanted to learn beekeeping and give back to nature through this. Little did she know that it would also be a source of income through agri-tourism and more. 

Bee colonies at Villa Corazon Farm.

Her Balay Buhay sa Uma Bee (BBU) Farm in barangay San Roque in Bulusan town is a techno-demo farm in beekeeping with kiwot the native stingless bees and a tourist attraction at the same time. 

Among the first beneficiaries of beekeeping training at the farm are couple Leony and Dennis Dominguez, who are among the farm’s first full-time employees and are now doing the training for interested members of the community via government-sponsored programs. The farm also attracts crop growers interested to learn beekeeping, as well as tourists, for it offers a farm living experience.

What are kiwot bees? 

Kiwot bees and their honeycomb. PHOTO BY Patricia Bravante.

Kiwot bees are the Philippines’ native stingless bees. They have all the features of a honey bee, except without the sting. These bees pollinate high-value crops like mango, pili, and coconut. According to Dr. Cleofas Cervancia of UPLB Bee Program in her report for the first World Bee Day, kiwot bees visit more economic plants than other bees; and for that, she said this should make beekeeping with kiwot bees a part of climate change mitigation. And with this typhoon-prone province, these bees can help with faster recovery of plants and crops through intense pollination.  

At BBU, kiwot bees are used as calamansi pollinators and for its annex farm – the Villa Corazon Farm also in San Roque – and also as coconut pollinators.

According to Catindig, their coconut harvest has increased by up to 50 percent through kiwot pollination. “Even after typhoons, fewer premature coconuts fall,” she said. 

That is because kiwot bees, being so tiny like ants, can penetrate the flowerettes, thereby pollinating and making them typhoon-proof, former consultant to BBU Flordeliza Palconitin-Broqueza explained. It was also Flor who suggested that Catindig should venture into coconut farming because kiwot bees are excellent pollinators. According to Cervancia, kiwot bees can increase coconut harvest by up to 80 percent and it is a good thing that they bear fruit all-year round.

A tribute to Rodolfo Palconitin

Catindig considered the late Rodolfo “Tio Ompong” Palconitin as one of her two mentors in beekeeping with kiwot bees.

He and his daughter Flor lived at the farm for several years to supervise the then budding bee farm. Tio Ompong used his coco technology (coco shell bee housing) for BBU, with added metal roofs.

Flor relayed that her father would bring home kiwot colonies from the wild, which he would place in the open space on the underside of their roof. Later, he would learn that the kiwot bees form round-shaped pollen and honey, giving him the idea for his coco technology. 

“Farmers that are starting out can make do with simple coco technology (sans the metal roof),” said Flor. That’s why at their home in Guinobatan in Albay, she keeps her coco technology simple.

“I don’t want to make it look intimidating for farmers with limited start-up resources.” In the Philippines, one of the reasons beekeeping hardly takes off is the need for high input. Propagation of technologies like these can help make beekeeping accessible to poor farmers.

UPLB Bee Program

Catindig’s other mentor is Dr. Cervancia, who suggested that she try kiwot bees after her failed attempts with imported bees. She attended the UPLB Beekeeping training and later was referred to Tio Ompong, whom the program administrators had also sought for expert opinion. His practical knowledge in beekeeping with kiwot bees is a result of curious interest since he was a teen.

With constant supervision from her mentors and continuous training here and abroad, the budding bee farm is now the successful agri-ecotourism BBU farm that we know. 

University of the Philippines-Los Baños Bee Program.

The farm now has bee products like honey and propolis drops, as well as non-food products. It provides full-time and part-time employment in the community, all of whom are family people. Tourists wanting respite from the city stay at the farm and are served organic food.

Most importantly, beekeeping cultivates one’s protective sense for the environment. At BBU, there are plenty of organic plants useful for the bees, nearby water sources and vegetation that otherwise might be considered by others not useful.

Bee hunters from the wild now understands the effect of burning trees for honey, which they have learned from trainings and now have their kiwot colonies at home. Thanks to the local government of Bulusan for adopting the project.

Beekeepers have to protect the environment because their livelihood depends on it, not to mention the add-on products these bees create for crop growers that use these bees for pollination and the possibility of supplemental income through agri-tourism.

With such a win-win package, kiwot bees are indeed the bees of the future.

For reservations and more information, contact (02)986-4355/09127907046 or e-mail balaybuhaybeefarm@gmail.com.