Saturday, May 18Food Security Matters

Beekeeping in the Philippines – Apis Mellifera Farming

Beekeeping in the Philippines is one of the emerging agricultural activities that can provide sustainable income to many Filipino farmers. This article will discuss beekeeping, how to do it, its profitability, and sustainability. Although there are seven species of honeybees that are widely farmed around the world, this article focuses only on the three widely domesticated honeybees. The Apis Mellifera (European honey bee), which is the number one farmed bee in the world, Apis Cerana (Asiatic honey bee) or Laywan or Ligwan in Tagalog, and Apis Dorsata ( giant honey bee) or Pukyutan in Tagalog and Putyukan in Hiligaynon/Ilonggo. This article does not apply to stingless bees (Trigona, Tagalog – Lukot, Hiligaynon – Libog )which we covered in a different article.

Filipino beekeeper image credit CESOSACO

Beekeeping in the Philippines

The Apis Mellifera is not native to the Philippines but they are the preferred honeybees to keep due to their high productivity. Although they are not the easiest bees to keep, the benefits always outweigh the risks.

The Apis Mellifera in some respects is similar to the Asian honeybee (Apis Cerana or Ligwan) but larger in size, and there are some important behavioral differences. The European honeybee lives in much larger colonies than the Asian honeybee.

Domesticated bees typically live in a beehive called Langstroth hive and use moveable frames. These frames can be costly if you buy them from the market but can easily be made if you have a little knowledge of carpentry, allowing you to save lots of money.

Beekeeping in the Philippines using European honeybees is not yet a popular agricultural activity due to the lack of knowledgeable people and training but somehow is starting to gain momentum.

In order to farm honeybees, one must have a day or two of training. This training can be provided by the Department of Agriculture – Bureau of Agricultural Research (DABAR),  Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI), or by private beekeepers, especially in Calabarzon. There are training sessions provided by beekeepers in Batangas and Quezon province starting from free to paid training sessions.

Although we can find videos and articles online, keeping the European honeybees is not recommended unless you attend any of these seminars and on-the-job training.

Much work has been done by promoters of beekeeping in the Philippines, mainly focused on the European honeybee. However, this temperate species of bee requires a lot of input in terms of costs and knowledge, although the potential for honey and other products is great. Significant problematic issues include the Varroa mite, predators, diseases, and the need for suitable ‘Queen’ production.

Requirements for Beekeeping in the Philippines

In order to start beekeeping for a small-scale business, the following requirements must be met.

  • Enough training and hands-on experience.
  • Your backyard space must have a post cleared 5 feet from all directions. Having said this, beekeeping is not suitable in an apartment complex, mass housing, or squatter areas. There must be at least 5 feet of space from your beehives in all directions (North, South, East, West).
  • At least P30,000 of initial capital. This will cover the cost of two colonies as start-ups (P8,000 to P10,000 each), and some basic tools like smokers, protective suits, etc. It is always recommended to start with two colonies for safety reasons as a single colony could disappear in no time.
  • The surrounding area of your beehive must have enough vegetation where the bees can get their food. Areas under coconut plantations or fruit-bearing trees are highly recommended. Avoid keeping honeybees near agricultural lands where pesticides and insecticides are always used.

Caring of Honeybees

Of course, it is not recommended to start beekeeping without undergoing a seminar but in case you missed it, keep reading. Remember that European honeybees are not native to tropical climates so proper care and maintenance are really important.

Inspect the bees inside and outside the beehive

Inspect the hives inside and out

Much of beekeeping is simple observation and response. If you are a novice beekeeper, inspect the hive about once a week for a couple of months so that you can learn. Once you feel comfortable, adjust your routine to every two weeks. Make sure the outside of the hive is clean and free of bee poop, the landing board is free of litter, and there are no ants on the hive. Open the hives and check frames for larvae and eggs (on warm days only). If the queen is healthy, you will see plenty of larvae in various stages of development.

If you don’t see evidence of a healthy queen, consult an expert. Your local beekeeping guild is a good source.

Ultimately, the less often you inspect the hive, the better for its health. Opening the hives and thoroughly checking them requires smoking to keep the bees calm. This stresses the bees and it takes them about a day to recover. As you learn more, you will find you won’t need to pull many frames to know what is going on inside. And you will figure out a lot simply by observing the bees as they come and go from the hive.

Check regularly for pests and diseases

Varroa mites are the pests most typically found in hives. Left unchecked, they can cripple and eventually kill the hive. Other pests you need to watch for include the small hive beetle and the wax moth. Early intervention can often mean the difference between a healthy hive and a dead hive. Spiders, ants, frogs, and lizards are also some of the predators you need to be aware of.

Expand the hive when necessary

Although you can start with one deep hive body-brood box, two colonies are highly recommended. When the bees have filled it with 7 or 8 frames of bees and brood, top it with a second brood box. Let the bees build up brood cells in the second brood box, too. When the second brood box is well filled (7 or 8 frames of bees), top it with a queen excluder, if you choose to use one, and, finally, the honey super (the box from which you will collect most of your honey). This can only be possible if you know how to split the hive which must have been included in your training.

Honey Collection and Marketing Your Products

One of the beauties of beekeeping in the Philippines is it provides not just honey but other products like pollen, propolis, royal jelly, and beeswax. These products have different prices depending on the amount of weight.

For starters, a honey extractor that costs around P8,000 is not yet recommended but if you have an extra amount of money, it can be useful as it can preserve their honeycomb. Harvesting honey without totally destroying the honeycomb will help the bees produce honey next time faster than when there is no honeycomb at all.

Once the honey and the associated byproducts like beeswax are extracted and processed, you can market your product online through social media, or through word of mouth in your neighborhood.

Beekeeping Profitability

A single frame full of honey from your beehive can have an average of 3.5kg when full. Assuming you have 10 frames in a single-layer beehive with 80% content, you can easily get a total of 28 kgs (28 liters) in 3 to 6 months depending on environmental conditions and the source of food for the bees.  The current average cost of pure honey (not fake honey from Lazada or Shopee) is around P1,200 per liter/kg.  Assuming you sell it for the cheapest price of P1,000, you can still get P28,000 from a 1-layer hive. This is just the beginning. You can harvest every 4 months if the conditions are desirable and you can make more than P100,000 in the next year as you multiply your colonies.

Fake vs Pure Honey

When you look to buy honey online, especially through Lazada and Shoppee, you will get only fake honey.  The National Honey Board (NHB), which operates under U.S. Department of Agriculture oversight reports that the average honey price in the Philippines in 2020, roughly translates to Php 1,270 per liter of honey. While legitimate online shops in the Philippines sell pure raw honey from Php 1000 to Php 1500 per liter.

In Lipa City and Balete, Batangas where most of the province’s honey bee farms are located, a 320ml UFC Catsup bottle of honey costs between P280 and P350 or  P875 to P1,093/liter. This is far higher than Lazada and Shopee honey which costs just P192/liter (150/750ml). No beekeeper would survive with this kind of cost unless they mix sugars with other synthetic chemicals to make adulterated honey. There is even a warning from the FDA calling people not to buy from the unpopular Marshal’s Bee Farm which sells P192/liter of fake honey.

Knowing pure from fake honey is easy. Just buy directly from the farm or from the farm’s official website. Milea Farm for example sells 285 grams/ml of pure stingless bee honey for P455. Milea Farm is one of the pioneers and one of the biggest contributors to stingless bee farming in the country.  If you are really serious about getting 100% pure honey, just visit any bee farm located near you. Search Google or Facebook for the nearest apiaries.

Questions Related to Beekeeping in the Philippines

Are there beekeepers in the Philippines?

Although honey production in the country is not considered a major industry, the Philippines has thousands of backyard to medium-sized beekeepers of both European honeybees and stingless bees.

Are there honey bees in the Philippines?

Five out of nine species of honeybees in the world are native to the Philippines. At least seven species of stingless bees are also found locally, some of whom have been domesticated for agricultural production. One such honeybee species is the Apis Cerana, locally known as the ‘Laywan’.

Does apiculture applicable in the Philippines?

Beekeeping in the Philippines is a thriving industry that perfectly matches the natural landscape of the country. All types of honey bees utilized for beekeeping exist in the Philippines. These are the European honeybees (Apis mellifera), Asian honeybees  (Apis Cerana), and stingless honeybees (Trigona spp.) There is also wide Asian giant honeybees (Apis dorsata) or pukyutan, which cannot be domesticated due to their aggressive behavior and don’t live in confinement.

Are bees endangered in the Philippines?

But bees are among the most threatened species in the world, with habitat loss the main driver of their decline. In the Philippines, habitat loss and degradation are linked to a lack of standards for bee hunting and trade, which poses challenges to conservation efforts.

What are the challenges of beekeeping?

Bee colony decline, absconding and swarming, honeybee pests and predators, and lack of training and extension were identified as major beekeeping challenges in the study areas.

How many hives can one person manage?

One person can manage between 100 to 150 hives while still working a full-time job. As a full-time beekeeper, one person can manage between 500 to 800 bee colonies but would still require seasonal workers to assist with the honey harvest.

Is it expensive to keep bees?

The initial cost of beekeeping can be intimidating to new beekeepers. You will need to invest in supplies such as a hive, proper protective clothing, a smoker, and a hive tool. As of this writing, a single new hive may cost about P250, clothing and gear may cost about P500, and a package of new bees may run from P8,000 to P25,000 per colony.

How do you know real from fake honey?

3 of 4 honey brands in PH are fake, the study says. The first thing to do is to buy directly from a DTI-registered and reputable apiary. Another thing is to drop a teaspoon of honey into a glass of water. Fake honey will immediately start to dissolve, whilst raw honey will drop to the bottom of the glass intact. Place a drop of room temperature or cooler honey on your finger, If the ‘honey’ spreads then it is fake honey.

Is beekeeping a profitable business?

Beekeeping in the Philippines is a highly profitable business whether part-time or full-time. Not only that it provide a high income, but it also is not physically challenging and requires less time to manage unless you are doing it full-time.

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  • ian fletcher

    May I point out that a European honeybee (Apis mellifera) is not a bumble bee. Nor is the Asian honeybee (Apis cerana) Otherwise, many thanks for an excellent article.

    • Maria Risa Masa

      Bumble bee is never mentioned here. Bumble bees are used primarily on pollination and not in honey production as they don’t produce honey.

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