Bee-utiful potential: Stingless beekeeping provides sweet livelihood to members of the Higaonon tribe

By Vic Thor Palarca

The buzz among local beekeepers and Asian Apiculture Association (AAA) member Reynaldo Gil “Datu Makadingding” Lomarda is that stingless bees, commonly known as “kiyot” indirectly promotes organic farming.

Stingless bee honey or ‘kiyot’ honey is known for its antibacterial and antioxidant properties. According to Datu Makadingding, it has a higher clinical value than any other honey. Stingless beekeeping is gradually getting recognized and practiced among local beekeepers because stingless bees are efficient pollinators that can increase the productivity of fruit trees/coconuts on a farm. (ATI Northern Mindanao)

As a founder and farm owner of Umanika Eco Cultural Farm in Malaybalay, Bukidnon, Datu Makadingding integrates stingless beekeeping in his farm to promote mass pollination of the farm’s highland vegetables, herbs, and fruit trees. A harvest of this golden liquid is assured for its health benefits. “Pollination should be the main goal, honey is just a bonus. Pollination as a result of beekeeping, plays a vital role in biodiversity,” Datu Makadingding said.

Choosing the right bee

Since stingless bees are endemic to the Philippines, Datu Makadingding emphasized the bee’s many advantages as the choice of bees among the Higaonons in their respective barangays in Claveria, Misamis Oriental.

As Datu Makadingding continually promotes stingless bees for urban beekeeping, he shares that a household can have its supply of very potent honey, bee pollen, and propolis even in an urban area. Plus, the productivity of fruit trees around is increased as these ‘kiyot’ bees are excellent pollinators. (ATI Northern Mindanao)

Compared to other bees such as Asian or European honey bees, the latter need monitoring at least once a week to check for parasites, since mites are considered the colony’s enemy. A foul brood also causes colony collapse. A foul brood happens when there is a bacterial disease in the honeybee brood infected by the spore-forming bacterium Paenibacillus larvae.

Another advantage of choosing stingless bees is that they are not picky with the type of flowers available in the vicinity.

“The reason nga atong bees (stingless) ang gigamit, aron dili maglisod ug pangita since endemic sya (The reason why we use our local bees is because of its availability since it is endemic). Also, stingless bees can be kept on a set of clustered coconut shells; they can thrive in the most unexpected places, since dili siya (they are not) high maintenance,” Datu Makadingding pointed out.

An open area with flowering plants and trees is a prerequisite for beekeeping. Since a stingless bee’s scope of flight is half a kilometer radius, they are a big help in boosting coconut yield as well as pollinating high-value crops like mango and coffee. According to a recent study, a 40-60% increase in coconut yield is attributed to pollination by stingless bees.

Beekeeping as a source of income

A series of beekeeping trainings were initiated by GreenMinds Incorporated, in partnership with the Agricultural Training Institute – Regional Training Center X (ATI-RTC X) on May 2022 in the households of Claveria and Medina, and with DTI-Misamis Oriental in Gitagum and Gingoog City.

Through a partnership training with the Agricultural Training Institute-Regional Training Center 10, GreenMinds Incorporated CEO Datu Makadingding promotes and practices sustainable beekeeping (and harvesting techniques) by teaching the community and tribe members of Sitio Kalhaan how to propagate stingless bees, with sustainability in mind and at the same time, taking care of the environment. (ATI Northern Mindanao)

As previously observed by Datu Makadingding, most of the participants already have kiyot colonies in their households but these were not given much attention for their value and potential as a money maker. This prompted the conducting of a beekeeping course in Sitio Kalhaan, Barangay Minalwang in Claveria, Misamis Oriental.

Stingless beekeeping is a passive income source, and a buy-back scheme is effective and has a positive impact on the beekeeping communities. The crafting of a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) of a buyback scheme by GreenMinds Incorporated promotes and practices sustainable beekeeping (and harvesting techniques).

Teaching the community and tribe members of Sitio Kalhaan how to propagate stingless bees with sustainability and care for the environment was the top priority. For this particular community-based project, the Higaonon tribe was trained on stingless bee propagation. 

During harvest time, Greenminds buys their bee products like honey and pollen at competitive buying prices. Another set of bee boxes was furnished for another round of beekeeping cycle.

Since the conduct of training, the beekeeping community of Barangay Minalwang in Claveria, Misamis Oriental now enjoys a profitable venture in stingless beekeeping since GreenMinds Incorporated buys their harvested honey and bee pollen, and gives back another set of bee boxes to the community to keep the loop of the beekeeping cycle. (ATI Northern Mindanao)

As per agreement with the beekeepers, GreenMinds Incorporated will buy back the honey and other by-products of the bees. The contract pollination in the community encourages the tribe to plant more flowering and fruit-bearing plants so that bees can open source their pollens and nectars from them.

In a span of four to six months, beekeepers can harvest and sell 1,200 or 1,500 pesos per liter. To date, Datu Makadingding’s buying price for a box of stingless bee colony is two thousand pesos and 350 pesos per kilo for both pollen and honey.

Establishing a colony

A set of 40 UPLB Tetragonula Pollinator Hive (UPLB-TPH) bee boxes were given as post-training support to the community by the ATI-RTC X in collaboration with the Rotary Club of Cagayan de Oro City. The UPLB Tetragonula Pollinator Hive (UPLB-TPH) box is designed by UPLB specifically for stingless bees, imitating their natural colony conditions. The prescribed bee box size which is approximately 12.5 cm x 10 cm is ideal for stingless bees, or at least almost the same size as a stingless bee colony, since a bigger box means more time for the bees to fill in the entire box. It is advised not to remove the horizontal divider of the box to ensure that the bees will fill every nook and cranny of the box. Also, it is natural among stingless bees to fix their environment and seal open spaces.

No honey flow season in Mindanao

“Usually sa uban nga lugar naay honey flow season which normally falls sa summer season kay daghan bulak, so daghan sila honey, pero diri sa atoa nga even ang rainfall throughout the year, walay specific honey flow months dere sa Mindanao. Mao nay ilang advantage (Usually there is a honey flow season in other places, which normally falls during summertime since there are a lot of flowers during that time of the year, so honey is abundant, with the uneven rainfall throughout the year, we have no specific honey flow months here in Mindanao. That is their advantage).” The buy-back scheme and regular supply of bee boxes proved effective in keeping the flow of honey (at least among regular buyers and patrons) since the beekeeping livelihood of the Higaonons is booming.

Since the initial deposit of five beehive boxes in April to jumpstart their livelihood, 25 beehive boxes were then harvested the following harvest season.

Datu Makadingidng also shared that stingless bees naturally keep two to three virgin queens on standby, to keep the colony alive.

Since the first boxful of bee colonies, Datu Makadingding plans to replicate the boxes made out of marine plywood and GI sheet and buy other bee-based products and byproducts such as honey, bee pollen, and propolis.

Sustainable harvesting

According to Datu Makadingding, stingless bee honey is proven to be more potent and nutritious than honey from other types of bees. Its honey is also high in medicinal value.

“For a stingless bee harvest, the best time to harvest is from 8:00AM to 10:00AM when the bees are foraging. Avoid disturbing the bees during cloudy or rainy days. When transporting or transferring a colony, do it at night. Transporting or transferring at night is recommended since bees fly and are active in the morning, and for giving a chance for the other bees to come home. Bees are typically inactive at night so they gather around in their colony or hive,” he said.

The beekeepers practice a harvesting method through drip harvesting by removing the honey pots and letting them drip overnight in a clean container.

“Sustainable harvesting happens when only 50 to 75 percent is harvested. I always tell them to practice discipline, exert control, and not be greedy when harvesting. If we harvest just half of their honey, the bees will only exert half the effort in producing what was taken away,” Datu said.

Datu Makadingding’s next move is to make Sitio Kalhaan in Claveria and its neighboring areas a meliphony tourism capital through community enterprise. “Sa pagka-karon, enterprise level na ang community sa Sitio Kalhaan dere sa Minalwang, ug dako among pasalamat sa GreenMinds Incorporated nga sa 23 years nila nga engagement sa community development, pinaagi kang Datu Makadingding, kami na train unsaon pag-plastar ug transfer sa colony sa bee box (At the moment, the community of Sitio Kalhaan here in Minalwang is already an enterprise level, and we are very grateful to GreenMinds Incorporated, through Datu Makadingding, that in their 23 years engagement in community development, we were trained how to put together and transfer a colony in a bee box),” shared Maria Tenila L. Pina-andel, Kalhaan Kabahiyanan Association President.

Kalhaan Kabahiyanan Association President Maria Tenila L. Pina-andel convenes the women members of Barangay Minalwang for a monthly meeting. The association was among the trained participants in stingless beekeeping on how to propagate stingless bees and transfer a colony in a bee box.  (ATI Northern Mindanao)

“Gawas sa gipa-ambit nga kaalam, ang kakugi ug lahutay sa maong tinguha ang among ginapaningkamutan nga kaming 51 members nga na-organized last February, mahimong productive ug active gyud sa beekeeping ug farming (Aside from the imparted knowledge, we aspire to last long through hard work among the 51 members which was organized last February, to be productive and active in beekeeping and farming),” Datu Jeofily added.

As to its previous beekeeping training activities, the center provided post-training support which included bee veils, TPH boxes, bee hives, and other hive tools. GreenMinds Incorporated, on the other hand, gave away seedlings of mulberries, shovels, TPH bee boxes, and bee veils as additional extension support to the budding beekeepers.

Photos by ATI Northern Mindanao

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