Manitobans boosting Filipino honey sector

A decade ago, there were just 5,000 hives in the entire nation, 
but now honey production and demand for beekeeping training is soaring

Only a few years ago beekeeping wasn’t even recognized by the Philippine Department of Agriculture. Now it’s having trouble keeping up with demand for training.

The change is partly due to the efforts of a group of Manitoba apiarists who have been visiting the Philippines in recent winters, while also inviting beekeepers from the South Asian nation to Manitoba for the last two summers to learn about beekeeping and honey production.

“Manitoba does punch above its weight when it comes to beekeeping in the Philippines,” said Peter Veldhuis, who has been working with beekeepers there since 2009.

“They couldn’t envision this huge industry that made all this money when we started.”

Veldhuis began working with overseas beekeepers nearly a decade ago through the Canadian Executive Service Organization (CESO), a Toronto-based volunteer group that works to improve managerial systems, fisheries, agriculture and industry development by sharing the expertise of Canadian professionals.

The Philippines is well suited to honey production, and has four species of honeybees, including Trigona bees that are stingless, said Veldhuis.

But despite a variety of native bees — some of which are disease resistant — the apiarist said there were only 5,000 hives in the country when they began work there.

“Dismal numbers really… they weren’t even meeting their own domestic need for honey,” he said, adding the average yield per hive was 19 pounds.

But with the assistance of CESO-affiliated apiarists who set up more than a dozen satellite centres offering hands-on training and advice, Filipino beekeepers have expanded their hives and increased their yields. Veldhuis said he thinks the program will be developed enough to be handed over to locals in 2014 or 2015, with the knowledge that high-quality, assessable extension service for beekeepers will continue.

Filipino beekeepers have some special challenges with predators, notably a bird called the blue-tailed bee-eater, said Veldhuis.

“I shot 400 shells off and it didn’t even make a dent in them,” said the beekeeper.

Keeping hives underneath the forest canopy is one control tactic — a new concept for the Manitoba contingent. As was the sight of farmers opening their beehives without smoking the bees out first.

“The bees there are very gentle, very easy to work with,” said Charles Polcyn, who has also travelled to the Philippines and other countries to assist beekeepers through CESO.

The Whitemouth-area apiarist said the development of beekeeping overseas can also help improve business opportunities for women, who are often the better beekeepers, said Polcyn.

“They have the time and also pay attention to details, sometimes guys don’t pay attention to those details and that’s really important to being a successful beekeeper,” he said.

Investing in beehives can also be less risky for a farmer than putting all of his or her money into something like one cow, Veldhuis said.

“If you buy one cow and it dies, you have nothing, but if you buy 10 hives and lose, say, four hives, you still have six,” he said. “It’s a really good fit for international development because it doesn’t take a huge amount of investment.”

As beekeeping catches on, three new universities have added beekeeping as an extension program and more are interested, Veldhuis said.

“Our problem is training people fast enough to meet the demand, and we really are trying to implement a train-the-trainer approach,” he said.

About the author

Reporter

Shannon VanRaes is a journalist and photojournalist at the Manitoba Co-operator. She also writes a weekly urban affairs column for Metro Winnipeg, and has previously reported for the Winnipeg Sun, Outwords Magazine and the Portage Daily Graphic.

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