Pollination in the Philippines

A study into the prospects for mangos, coconuts and other crops associated with bee pollinators in the Philippines, and the prospects for the beekeeping sector. It describes why pollinator losses are reducing the yields of many Philippine crops, and how identified crops may only yield half of their potential. A strategy is proposed which could produce widespread, sustainable increased yields and incomes for farmers.   The author is Julian Wright, May 2014.

Contents menu
Excecutive summary
Background to this study
Importance of bees as pollinators in the Philippines
Key features of the bees
The current status of bees in the Philippines
Mango agriculture prospects
Coconut agriculture prospects
Prospects for other agricultural crops
What is the underlying problem?
Honey hunting in the Philippines
‘Honey’ in the supermarkets
Problems caused by fake honey
Current beekeeping situation in the Philippines
Prospects for bees and beekeeping in the Philippines
Summary and conclusions

About the author
Reference list

Executive summary or Abstract    (Contents menu)

The ‘dwindling’ of Philippine yields for mangos and other crops has been documented. A study of the Philippine bee pollinators strongly indicates a poor pollination environment for many crops compared to other Asean countries. This study identifies an active and destructive ‘honey hunting’ tradition in the Philippines as the major cause for the ongoing losses of the key native Apis dorsata and Apis cerana honeybee pollinators. The study indicates that in some regions the loss of Stingless bee colonies is also worsening the pollination environment. It is noted that other factors may be cited for yield reductions, but this study strongly indicates that the limitations of insufficient bee pollinations over the last ten or more years broadly correlates to the dwindling yields of many crops.

It is noted that the small beekeeping sector currently cannot make up the pollinator shortfall, but that there is an opportunity for a growing and profitable beekeeping sector. This study has revealed that there is a distorted honey marketplace, and if improvements in crop yields are to be sought then it would be desirable for Government authorities and supermarkets to understand the negative impact the current situation has on the prospects of the beekeeping and agricultural sectors.

An overall important finding is a widespread lack of awareness of ‘pollination’ and the role of bees in the environment and agriculture, even amongst many farmers. If increased crop production and incomes are sought, then an improved awareness of the key concepts of pollination will enable better choices to be made which can then result in more pollinators and greater crop yields.

Introduction     (Contents menu)

The Manila Bulletin has a feature: “Declining Agri Yield Worrisome” in February 20th 2012 …

MANILA, Philippines — The yield and export of the world’s famous Manila mango has been dwindling over the years in tandem with other Philippines agricultural products and lagging behind other ASEAN countries, a situation that has alarmed leaders in the industry.

The average yield reductions of some sample important crops compared to other Asean countries in 2010 – 2013 are approximately …

Mangos: 50% or more reduction              Coffee:  60% or more reduction
Coconuts: 50% or more reduction           Cotton: 30% reduction

Ten or more years ago Philippine yields were higher. The decline in many crop yields has coincided with the ongoing removal of the main insect pollinators from the agricultural regions.  The case is made in this document that the major limiting factor for many Philippine crops is poor insect pollination due to the continuing destruction of the key beneficial insects, which are the honeybees and stingless bees.

In this document the key factors causing this deteriorating situation are identified, and some achievable and very cost effective solutions are proposed.

Background to this study     (Contents menu)

Most of the Philippine population relies in some way on agriculture for a living and food production is an essential industry for everyone. The Economic Value of Insect Pollination (EVIP) for the Philippines in 2009 was assessed by Food and Agriculture Organisation methods to be $710 million(US). Crops associated with insect (mainly bee) pollination such as mangos, coconuts, coffee and cotton are producing significantly less than their potential compared to other Asean countries.

The author is a British agricultural scientist who has relatives and some agricultural land in a rural area in the Philippines. For several years the author has noted the increasing disappearance of honeybees even higher up into the mountainous areas, and having visited many islands, rural areas and cities from Baguio to Davao the story appears to be similar.  This document is a summary of findings resulting from many months of internet and email research, including visits and discussions with beekeepers, university researchers, and many rural people.

This study was done because of a suspected causal link between pollinator losses and the productivity of many such important Philippine food and other crops, and a concern for the consequent damage to the agricultural and wider economy, society and environment. It is important for Philippine farmers and other citizens to become more aware of the issues so that better choices can be made which might then lead to an improvement in crop yields and rural incomes.  It also became evident that there was an urgent need for improved education and ‘awareness raising’ in schools and in the wider rural community of ‘pollination’ and bees as beneficial insects.

Importance of bees as pollinators in the Philippines           (Contents menu)

Fruit bearing crops and other plants must be pollinated in order to create seed and fruit. Pollination is the transfer of the microscopic male pollen particles to the female parts of the plant which is done principally by wind or insects (mainly bees).

Honeybees would be most easily seen on a sunny morning when they are flying from flower to flower carefully collecting their food of pollen and nectar – and also pollinating plants. Can you see any honeybees in your location?  Currently, in most agricultural and urban regions of the Philippines, the answer to this question will be ‘No’.  This fact should be of vital concern to us all.

In the Philippines 75% of the food crops need insect (mainly bee) pollinators for sufficient successful pollination, and these include coconuts, mangos, coffee, peppers, star fruit, kiwi, cashew, rambutan, macadamia, sunflowers, papaya, lychee, guava, watermelon, cucumber, squash, gourd, luffa, avocado, pechay, cowpea, cocoa, passion fruit, oil palm, beans, tangerine, tomatoes and crops such as cotton. (Wind pollinated crops such as sweetcorn, rice, and sugarcane are produced in greater volumes.)

Suppose that all the bees were removed from the environment there would be a drastic decline in the production from such insect pollinated crops, and some crops would possibly fail completely! Competition for growing space from invasive and wind pollinated ‘weed’ plants would also become problematic. In addition many ornamental flowering plants would decline in the environment since they would not be able to naturally create seeds and reproduce.

There are several types of bee, native to the Philippines, which are particularly important…

Apis cerana – this is the ‘Asian honeybee’, natively called the Ligwan or other names.

Apis dorsata – this is the ‘Wild honeybee’, natively called the Putyokan or other names.

Apis andreniformis and others – these are the ‘Dwarf honeybees’ (also called Ligwan)

Tetragonula species (Trigona species) – these are the ‘Stingless bees’, natively called
the Kiwot or other names.

Key features of the bees    (Contents menu)

Bees get all their food and resources from flowering plants. Flowers are produced by plants to attract bees (and some other insects) to enable pollination. Flowers and bees as their key pollinators have evolved together since they depend on each other. (Bees have been an essential part of the world’s natural environment for at least 100 million years.)

Bees have ‘furry’ bodies and their hind legs have distinctive pollen baskets for carrying pollen gathered from flowers, which they use as food. From flowers bees also collect nectar and they may also collect plant sap. (Flower nectar and plant sap contain sugars and many different amino acids, compounds and fragrances which vary depending on the type of plant.)  Bees then convert the flower nectar using their own enzymes into honey. This honey is a complex nutritious food store which is used to sustain the colony at night, and during periods of heavy rain, strong wind or other periods when they are not able to collect food from plants.

Bees are totally focused on their relationship with plants and have no interest whatsoever in harming humans. The honeybees can sting people but only in defense if their colony is under attack.  Stinging would only be done as a last resort by a bee since the bee will die shortly after stinging – honeybees cannot ‘bite’ as many people believe.  Sadly there is a widespread cultural misunderstanding and fear of honeybees in the Philippines.  Many people do not know the difference between a honeybee and a hornet or wasp which are very different insects. (Hornets and wasps are carnivorous and feed on other insects, they can sting without dying and usually it is these insects that sting people.  Honeybees will use their stings to defend themselves from hornets and wasps.)

The stingless bees are about the size of an ant, yet have all the features of the honeybees except that they do not have a sting. The Philippines is blessed with having many species of this bee and they are (as will be explained later) often now the key remaining pollinator for agriculture. They typically make their colonies in old bamboo, and are frequently found around bamboo or wooden structures.

In summary therefore, bees are wholly beneficial and essential insects – the human race owes them untold gratitude for their contribution to the food supply and the environment. (Einstein is reputed to have said that without bees the human race would survive for just 4 years!)

The current status of bees in the Philippines     (Contents menu)

Information on the populations of bees has been gathered from many sources, but there is currently insufficient data to assess accurately their status across the range of islands and habitats in the Philippines. Feedback has also been gathered from about 30 ‘reviewers’ of earlier versions of this study report, and there is a consensus that there is a very significant problem with declining bee populations in the Philippines. Feedback has indicated that there are some regions with good native honeybee populations but that many areas and islands currently appear to have declining or absent native honeybee populations.

Sadly it appears that the native honeybees have largely been wiped out from many of the urban and agricultural areas, leaving mainly the stingless bees to do the vital task of pollination! The key reasons and some achievable solutions for this problematic situation are outlined in this document.

Many years ago colonies of native honeybees would have existed from sea level right up to the mountainous areas on most (if not all) of the islands. (Rural people can remember seeing honeybees in the lowland agricultural areas, but not now.)  In 2013 colonies of honeybees in the ‘wild’ are often only to be found in the more remote and mountainous areas which are more difficult for people to access.  The primary cause of the diminishing number of honeybee colonies in and around these remaining reservoirs certainly appears to be the ‘honey hunters’.  (Honey hunting is explained in more detail later.)

Other agents of honeybee colony destruction will have been the use of some pesticides, plus habitat destruction. These agents are probably more prominent where areas of ‘mono-culture’ of sugar cane, sweetcorn and rice exist.  Dense polluted urban areas with no gardens or green areas will be ‘honeybee-free’ zones (although honeybees can be cultivated successfully in some suburban areas).

Because of the biologically complex way in which reproduction operates in bee colonies, the collapse in numbers of colonies in an area is affected by the number and genetic diversity of the colonies. When only a few colonies remain ‘in breeding’ occurs and the remaining colonies die out quickly.

Very fortunately stingless bees are still quite widespread (although in some areas they are also in decline due to lack of awareness of their importance.) Stingless bees are responsible for much of the pollination that is done by insects in the areas without honeybees. However, it is estimated that for several reasons the pollination rates are very much diminished for many crops in many areas, compared to the potential that could be achieved if the honeybee population was restored. There are relatively few beekeepers in the Philippines and so the national pollinator shortfall is becoming apparent.

Research is indicating that some regions in the Philippines are now in a vicious cycle where fewer pollinating bees reduce yields per hectare — and lower yields requires cultivation of more land to produce the same amount of food. If we want to continue to enjoy mangos and the many other bee pollinated crops, we have to protect the bees that help make their production possible.

If the Philippines is to be ‘a place for food security’ and also in a position to export mangos and other food products to countries like Korea, then the issue of disappearing bees in the Philippines has to be tackled. The longer the problem is ignored, the greater will be the damage and the longer it will take to rebuild pollinator populations and turn around the declining yields. This problem created by humans, noticeably over the last decade, can also be solved by humans if we are prepared to understand the issues and act effectively to re-establish the native bees and promote suitable beekeeping practices.

Mango agriculture prospects     (Contents menu)

For a mango fruit to develop the mango flower has first to be pollinated. Many studies have been done on mango pollination and the relative success of this for setting the fruit depends on many factors including the mango variety, the weather, the height and age of the trees, spraying of chemicals and the availability of pollinators.

The relative importance of bees to mango production can be summarized by The South African Mango Growers Association which has considered the various factors and states: ‘Placement of beehives in mango orchards is of utmost importance to ensure sufficient pollination.’

In 2009, Philippine mango output stood at only 771,000 tons from a high of over one million tons in 2007.   The Philippines yield of mango is amongst the lowest in the Asia, at only 4.55 tons per hectare in 2010.  This is only about 40% of the yield of Cambodia and 35% that of Indonesia.  The mango crop supports about 2.5 million farmers in the Philippines, who so often are trying to boost yields relatively unsuccessfully with extra fertilisers, and appear to have overlooked the critical pollination needs.

Mangos are highly dependent on bees for pollination and the setting of fruits – with no bees the crop would be very poor indeed. In a healthy bee environment with all the native bees present, when the mango flowering season occurs in a plantation there would be sufficient pollinators available to share the large task of visiting all the flowers carefully enough to produce heavy crops. Now this task often falls to the available reservoir of stingless bees since the native honeybees have been largely destroyed, and mango yields per hectare in many regions have fallen by around 50% in the last ten or more years.

Unless farmers make arrangements to bring in honeybee colonies in beehives from a beekeeper, the crops will continue to lag behind other countries with more developed beekeeping industries and a greater honeybee population. Another method being tried now in the Philippines is to bring in hived Trigona biroi stingless bee colonies.  Bringing in hived bees would usually be an added cost to the mango farmer, unless they are lucky enough to be close to one of the few beekeepers.

Coconut agriculture prospects    (Contents menu)

Take a bus journey through the Philippine countryside and observe carefully the numbers of coconuts on the trees. After half an hour of doing this you will most probably realize that some trees in small areas have quite a lot of coconuts and yet there are large areas where most, if not all, the trees have relatively few coconuts.  Taking into account the age of trees, and times when and where harvesting may have taken place, a pattern emerges. The trees with many coconuts are around buildings or other structures with old bamboo or wood where the stingless bees make their colonies.

Studies of the foraging ranges of stingless bees have found that they can possibly fly over a kilometer from the colony, but also that they will visit much more frequently good pollen sources which are closest to the colony. Hence, they currently are doing an unsatisfactory job of widespread pollination of coconut plantations. (Note: The Philippines has about a 50% gap with Vietnam for coconut yields per tree, even taking into account the relative ages of the trees.)

Studies have been done on the effect of having honeybee colonies in proximity to coconut plantations. There are many variables in this type of study including the species of honeybee, the stocking densities, foraging ranges etc.  Overall it is considered that increases of between 20 to 70% (35 to 50% might be an average figure) in coconut yields can be expected.

Put another way, the uncontrolled destruction of honeybee colonies mainly caused by honey hunters is very costly to coconut farmers. Despite applying salt fertilizers, little increase in coconut yields are obtained and negative economic, social and environmental issues arise. Many coconut trees are now being cut down for lumber and between the remaining trees often there are expanses of wind pollinated and invasive weed plants with few if any colourful flowers – since these would need mainly bee pollinators. (About 29% of the agricultural lands are currently planted to coconuts.)

A common crop to plant between coconut trees is sweetcorn but the economic return of sweetcorn is often quite marginal.  The ground needs to be ploughed to control weeds and to get reasonable yields fertilizers are needed especially after a few crops have been harvested. If bees are encouraged in the area then inter-planting crops like sunflowers, mangos and coffee may have more potential for sustainable economic returns.

Prospects for other agricultural crops      (Contents menu)

In addition to the well known crops of mangos and coconuts, many other crops benefit from bee pollination and include coffee, peppers, star fruit, kiwi, cashew, rambutan, macadamia, sunflowers, papaya, lychee, guava, watermelon, cucumber, squash, gourd, luffa, avocado, pechay, , cowpea, cocoa, passion fruit, oil palm, beans, tangerine, tomatoes and crops such as cotton.

When describing ‘The Value of Bees for Crop Pollination’, the Food and Agriculture Organisation state: The great value of bees as pollinators has been known for many years, but unfortunately, this knowledge is not widely appreciated and understood.

In addition the following is stated…
Insect pollination and pollinator protection are not included in most of the training books for agronomists, extension officers and farmers. Many farmers all over the world do not recognize the need for bee pollination and consequently many bees are killed by careless use of pesticides. Even many beekeepers and honey hunters do not know about pollination and cannot inform the farmers about the need for protection of bees.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation give various examples such as…
A single coffee flower is only open for three to four days when blooming. If a bee or another insect does not pollinate the flower during these days, it will wither, and no coffee bean will be produced. Clever coffee farmers take care that there are plenty of honeybees or stingless bees for pollination in the farm.

Even ‘self-fertile’ coffee varieties are shown in studies to have improved fruit set due to bee pollination. There are other factors to be considered in assessing yields, butcoffee could be considered one of the ‘indicator crops’ for insufficient bee pollination. Philippines coffee production has been declining and there is an 80% gap with Vietnam for coffee yields (Vietnam has a good pollinator environment).

Consider another example crop: cotton. The International Cotton Advisory Committee makes the following ‘Country Statement’ about the Cotton Industry in the Philippines …

The cotton industry is one of the sectors of the government of the Philippines that is geared towards alleviating poverty and attaining food security. While the industry’s contribution to Philippine economy for the last 10 years (1991-2000) is only 0.07% of the Gross Value Added in Agriculture (GVAA), its significance to rural employment cannot be denied. A great number of Filipino farmers depend on it for their living, particularly in areas where no other high value crop could be cultivated. Unfortunately, the industry has not really advanced even as the crop is technically feasible and economically viable. Thus, up to now, the Philippines is still a net cotton importer.

Figures for Philippine cotton production show a 50% fall from 2000 to 2007, and the production from 2008 to 2013 has been static. Information on pollination is available to help – a quick Google search provides the following advice for cotton growers from a respected USA Agriculture College …

Flowers of many varieties are self-fertile and self-pollinating; however, some varieties respond well to cross-pollination. The pollen is not wind-borne, and insects are good pollinators. With some varieties, bee pollination increases seed set per boll (‘Pima S-1’), cotton yield (‘Ashmouni’, ‘Pima S-1’), and earliness of seed set (‘A-33’, ‘A-44’). In practice, few, if any, growers manage bees for pollinating cotton. The crop is attractive to bees, and if insecticide pressure is low honey bees may store surplus cotton honey. Limit insecticide applications to evening to reduce bee kill.

In the Philippines 75% of the crop species need bee and other pollinators for good fruit and seed production (this currently equates to 35% by volume largely due to the massive production of wind-pollinated staple crops such as cereals and sugarcane).

What is the underlying problem?    (Contents menu)

It is repeatedly evident that so many crops are greatly benefited by the presence of bees, yet the general awareness, even amongst many farmers, is sadly lacking. There are some other factors that impinge on the declining productivity of these crops, but the case is made here that the dominant factor in the Philippines is the lack of awareness of pollination and the role of bees.  Following on from this is the apparently unnoticed abuse and needless destruction by humans (mainly ‘honey hunters’, as will be explained in the next section) of a resource on which they themselves depend for their future.

Independent and knowledgeable agricultural and beekeeping Philippine citizens have provided good solid feedback that supports the case laid out in this document. However, versions of this document have repeatedly been sent to the Philippine Department of Agriculture and to other government officials, but little response has been received to date. Currently it appears that the fundamental process of pollination for various crops is not being considered – for example the ‘High Value Crops Development Program’ website does not mention the need for pollinators – with the single exception of the squash crop. The HVCDP attributes declining production of mangos and coffee to several causes, but does not mention pollination issues.

The lack of engagement by key Philippine government departments may be partly responsible for a general lack of awareness even in many university agricultural departments of just how vital bees and pollination are to agricultural productivity.  However, with education the worsening situation can be reversed but it will require ‘awareness building’ via schools, the media and even the supermarkets.  The financial inputs needed would be extremely modest in comparison to the potentially immense financial, environmental and social gains.  Indeed, can we afford not to take appropriate action?

Honey hunting in the Philippines    (Contents menu)

Over many years in rural areas a small but significant proportion of the population have traditionally obtained honey from colonies of native honeybees. The two main targets are the ‘Wild honeybee’ or Putyokan (Apis dorsata) and the ‘Asian honeybee’ or Ligwan (Apis cerana).

Apis dorsata make their home in the open usually under the branches of tall trees. The colony makes a single large comb and the large (each bee is about 2.5cm long) black coloured honeybees cover the outside of the comb. A colony may have many thousands of bees and the comb, perhaps a metre in length, hangs in an arc under a branch that is usually at an angle of between 10 and 30 degrees. Honey is stored in the upper parts of the comb just under the branch and furthest out from the tree trunk, whilst the eggs and developing bees are in the lower area of the comb.

To drive the bees away from the Apis dorsata comb a fire is lit under the tree and the smoke is directed at the colony. Once the comb is free of bees the comb will be cut down. There is a choice here: either the whole comb can be cut down which means the colony is destroyed, or just a portion of the honey bearing comb can be cut out meaning that the bees can return and the colony can recover to carry on producing more honey.  Sadly in the Philippines the common practice is the former, even though in the longer term the latter practice will produce far more honey. (In other south eastern Asian countries such as Vietnam and Cambodia, research indicates that honey hunters are more understanding and commonly use the latter practice.)

The practice of ‘harvesting’ the whole comb of Apis dorsata in the Philippines seems to result from 3 factors: lack of understanding, lack of discipline, and a mistrust of other honey hunters. (Having discussed the practice of ‘harvesting’ Apis dorsata colonies with honey hunters, at some point the case may be given that ‘if we don’t get the whole comb then other people will’.)

Apis cerana make their home in enclosed areas which includes old trees, holes and small caves in the ground or possibly in human dwellings such as roof spaces etc. These honeybees are quite small in size (each bee is about 1cm long) with brown striped bodies.  Apis cerana colonies build possibly 5 to 9 parallel combs, each up to about 20cm long.  The outer combs and the tops of the combs will contain honey whilst the central combs will mainly contain the eggs and developing bees.

Fire and smoke is used to drive the Apis cerana bees away. Accessing the combs is usually very destructive since digging etc is needed, and if (the hole in the ground can collapse burying the colony) and when the combs can be reached then all the combs are taken which results in destruction of the colony. The amount of honey yielded in this operation is often quite small.

Honey extracted from the combs may be consumed by family and close friends. Some honey hunters will dilute honey with large amounts of brown sugar and water to be cooked up into a sugary brownish syrup, which is then put in old rum bottles to be sold as ‘pure honey’ (sometimes with a bit of wax and a dead bee inside to add some credibility that the contents are actually honey).  Sadly, people buying this may be hoping that honey will help with some medical problem (which it might if the contents were genuine).  With so much of this fake honey around (sold by honey hunters and available in ‘sari sari’ stores) many people are deceived and confused as to what honey actually tastes and looks like.

It is difficult to assess or measure ‘honey’ obtained via honey hunting as a ‘honey production’ figure, but whatever is obtained is done so in an uncontrolled, destructive and unsustainable manner. (It is recorded that about 37 tons of Apis dorsata honey is obtained each year, but the actual figure may be quite different. This honey has distinctive qualities and does not seem to be generally available in supermarkets for sale to the public.)

From discussions with honey hunters and rural people it is evident that they do not have sufficient understanding of the biology and role of these bees to appreciate the damage that is being done to their own agricultural environment and their own future and the future of their children. If they had such an appreciation then it is likely that the community would be urging the honey hunters to stop, or at least to change their methods and act as ‘honey gatherers’ which would be more sustainable.  It is critical therefore that effective education is needed in the essential concepts of what role the bee performs, both at schools and in the communities.

A ‘honey gatherer’ could be defined as having a more sympathetic approach, whereby only the honey bearing portion of an Apis dorsata comb is removed, and Apis cerana honey is obtained by providing simple hives for the bees to occupy. (These honey harvesting techniques have been practiced for centuries in some other regions of the world.)

To promote ‘honey gathering’ would be in the best interests of all the rural community, since everyone can benefit – the farmers, the enlightened honey hunters, their children and other people dependant on rural incomes. Such simple changes could dramatically slow up the negative effects of bee loss, and hopefully help to change attitudes which in the medium to longer term may lead to an improving situation, with a more resilient and guaranteed food supply for an ever increasing human population.

Given the increasingly dire situation with static and falling crop yields, the relentless continuing degradation of this key native resource (bees) needs to be addressed with some urgency. In this document therefore a case is also being made for legislation to be considered that attempts to stop the worst aspects of the honey hunting practice.  Importantly however some engagement by government officials and others are needed – firstly to recognize that a significant problem exists and then to promote appropriate education of the issues.  At the very least some educational discussion of the ‘honey hunting’ topic could be put on the ‘BAR Digest’ and other websites at minimal expense, so that farmers and other citizens can be helped to appreciate the issues.

‘Honey’ in the supermarkets    (Contents menu)

Go into just about any of the large supermarket chains and you will find ‘honey’ for sale on the shelves. In some supermarkets there may be imported honey from the USA and Australia which is quite expensive (depending on your budget).  There will most usually be many containers of Philippine ‘honey’ from a company called Cem’s Food Products with an address in Manila – with large descriptive labeling including: ‘honey from the forests of Palawan’, ‘rare tropical honey’, ‘extra virgin honey’, ‘raw wild honey’, ‘unfiltered honey’, ‘naturally healthful’, ‘Ultra Heat Treatment’, together with pictures of bees and skep beehives.  Cem ‘honey’ is about a half to a third of the price of the imported honey. Research indicates that the major supplier of ‘honey’ products to the national supermarkets is the Cem brand.  Consumers are being given the clear message that the Cem ‘honey’ is wonderful honey made by bees in plentiful supply from the Philippines at a very reasonable price.

Lengthy and detailed enquiries have resulted in the conclusion that the content of the Cem ‘honey’ bottles is not from the Philippines, and that the actual origin and purity of the contents are uncertain. No Philippine beekeepers appear to supply the Cem’s Food Products company, yet they flood the supermarkets with dubious products clearly labelled and marketed as if it was Philippine honey from Philippine bees  Despite lengthy and repeated requests the Cem company refuse to state where their ‘honey’ comes from.

The Cem Food Products company has no website and does not offer any customer information or enquiry service, despite it being the largest ‘honey’ supplier in the Philippines. The company premises are in an industrial area of Manila and the company has no ‘bee farms’.  If the Cem company truely respected its customers and retailers, it would be eager to provide open and clear information such as an example professional Indian honey company does (Bharat Honey) and as other professional genuine honey companies do, both in the Philippines and in other countries.

Genuine beekeepers in the Philippines are increasingly prepared to state publicly that this situation is wrong and that it needs to be corrected.  Fuller information from these enquiries has been repeatedly sent to the FDA since this is the government body responsible for public food and health issues, but as yet no response from the FDA has been received.

This matters because the presence of such products in the marketplace negatively impacts on the reputation and perception of Philippine bee honey, and also any developing beekeeping industry. This situation also contributes to a reduced national population of pollinating bees and consequently lower agricultural yields.

Problems caused by fake honey    (Contents menu)

Important issues are at stake here. In addition to widespread immoral ‘misrepresentation’ activity by the major national ‘honey’ supplier which distributes its products via the large supermarkets, there is widespread fake ‘honey’ in the ‘sari sari’ stores supplied by honey hunters. It is unknown exactly what might be in these products but they are likely for example to contain high levels of hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) caused by the heating and faking process, which would not be in unheated genuine bee honey. Millions of innocent people are being defrauded and are consuming products, often for medicinal reasons, of untrustworthy and potentially unhealthy compositions.

Genuine bee honey has many constituents including sugars, pollen and possibly up to 300 other minor natural chemical components.  The complexity of sugars and other components in genuine honey comes from the various flower nectars, sap and pollen, plus the result of the biological process performed by the bees. It also includes natural anti-oxidants and bioactivity. For millennia the bees have made honey to provide themselves (and us) with a naturally healthy food source.

Honey has historically and culturally a special place in our society, and is available to us because bees are also doing the vital job of pollinating the flowers and crops. Faking ‘honey’ and defrauding millions of people is therefore abhorrent. The sooner such fraud can be stopped, the better chance there is for the authorities and the public in the Philippines to realize that the bees and the pollination services they provide are in distress, and that it is increasingly necessary to protect bees and help them recover from the damage that has been done. The current situation indicates that there is quite a strong interest in honey consumption, and the public deserve to be correctly informed so that better choices can contribute to a more productive and sustainable agricultural environment.

Current beekeeping situation in the Philippines    (Contents menu)

There is a ‘Bee Industry Road Map’ that is published in the Philippines every few years, following meetings by beekeepers, university departments, and government bodies. Figures stated are…

Production as of August 2004     Quantity                              Value
Current Production                                 110.653 metric tons         Total Value 21. 81 M Pesos
Contribution to local demand               36. 66 %
Total number of beekeepers                 434
Total number of colonies                       5, 369

Production as of August 2011     Quantity                              Value
Current Production                                111.9 metric tons             Total Value 25. 4 M Pesos
Contribution to local demand              33.9 %
Total number of beekeepers                 434
Total number of colonies                       5, 369

Some sources estimate there may be about 600 to 700 active Philippine beekeepers, but the figures indicate that effectively there is little change, or possibly the figures are just the best that are available. Overall, however there is no obvious growth in the beekeeping industry as at 2011 with negligible exports and recorded imports of 441.25 tons of honey.

Much work has been done by promoters of beekeeping, mainly focused on the ‘European honeybee’ (Apis mellifera). However, this temperate species of bee requires a lot of inputs 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.

Many beekeepers cultivate Apis mellifera which in some respects is similar to the Asian honeybee but larger in size, but there are some important behavioural differences. The European honeybee lives in much larger colonies, and produces much more honey per colony.   However, due to predators and other problems in the tropics the temperate European honeybee is expensive and difficult to cultivate. Some beekeepers consider that the European honeybee is just not sustainable in the Philippines.

There is an increasing interest in stingless bees, and in particular hived colonies of Trigona biroi which show good potential, although this is currently limited to the southern areas of Luzon. (It should be relatively easy to explain to farmers how to encourage more stingless bees by just ensuring that there are lengths of suitable bamboo around the land.)

Apis dorsata is truly a ‘wild honeybee’ which makes colonies in the open and is not suitable for domestication. However better harvesting practices, with some element of control, would improve both the honey production and also the numbers of bee colonies into the future.

Apis cerana cultivation is limited and the recorded contribution in 2011 of this species to the honey production figure is only 3.5 tons, with an average yield of only about 1.8 kg per colony. It is striking that average honey yields of about 18 kg per Apis cerana colony are recorded in countries such as Vietnam and Sri Lanka which have similar climates and the same variant of bee. There appear to be several reasons for this tenfold disparity, but detailed discussion of these issues go beyond the limits of this document. It is important that appropriate beekeeping techniques for Apis cerana in the Philippines needs to become established (the author has started some trial beehives).

In comparison to the Philippines Vietnam appears to have generally a good pollinator environment, with a rural population who often keep bees in hives attached to their houses and thousands of professional beekeepers. Even though Vietnam had to recover from a damaging war (1959-1975) the country exports about 30,000 tons of honey annually (300 times more than the Philippines produces). This has helped Vietnam’s agricultural economy contribute to their national improving economy.

Prospects for bees and beekeeping in the Philippines    (Contents menu)

In the past seven years the phenomenon known as colony-collapse disorder (mainly with Apis mellifera) has spread across the United States and Europe, causing the disappearance of whole colonies of honeybees. Many people fear that food supplies for an expanding world human population will be even more stretched such that it is becoming an ever-looming crisis.

Problems with bee losses in other regions such as China from indiscriminate pesticide use and widespread pollution are being highlighted – some provinces in China now have no bees, where farmers are now having to resort in desperation to pollinating their fruit trees by hand which is a labour-intensive and insufficient solution. (Chinese honey is banned in the USA and some other countries because of contamination by dangerous antibiotics and heavy metals.)

During the history of humankind, bees have been doing the vital job of pollinating for free, but it is becoming clear that as a society we can no longer take this service for granted. The Vietnam example however indicates a better situation with a good pollination environment – where 300 times more honey is produced than the Philippines and coffee yields are 5 times greater than the Philippines.

There is no evident disadvantage to re-establishing the native bees in the Philippines and improving the pollinator environment. A healthy national bee population will be able to pollinate many different crops as they come into bloom at different times of the year.  Instead of a shrinking population of bees, the Philippines potentially could have a growing number of bees to provide a more assured food supply and a stronger economy.  This is because there are still reservoirs of native honeybees from where they could repopulate the lowland agricultural areas if, and only if, action is taken to curb reckless destructive honey hunting.

There also needs to be a viable market for genuine honey. Currently there are large amounts of fake honey in the marketplace which not only deceives and confuses consumers, but also undermines the market for genuine honey. It seems necessary to expose this fraudulent trade in the media and by other methods so that the public are informed to make their own choices. Government bodies and legislation need to tackle the issue of fraud in the honey market not only to protect consumers, but also because of the greater issue of protecting future food supplies, and to help support the agricultural economy on which so many millions of Philippine citizens depend.

In addition, a concern for some beekeepers is that some honey hunters appear to be un-scrupulous, meaning that the long term hard work and costs devoted to creating hived honeybee colonies may be destroyed by reckless theft.  Effective action to stop reckless honey hunting would require both education and legislation which might need to be backed up by effective enforcement.  If successful beekeeping techniques can get established in the Philippines, the situation with mangos, coconuts and other crops provide the opportunity for these beekeepers to keep their beehives on farmers’ fields, which will then greatly help these farmers.

Beekeeping has many benefits …

  • Cultivating bees in beehives increases the total number of bees in the local area, and crops in the local area of the beekeeper increase their yields.
  • This occupation enables a sustainable and growing bee population which can also provide honey, wax, propolis and other money earning products. Hence it can be a rewarding employment option for anyone who is prepared to learn the skills needed. (For example, a honey hunter could become a honey gatherer or beekeeper, or employed by a beekeeper so that bees are ‘kept’ not killed.)
  • The bee species cultivated can be Apis cerana and some stingless bee species, which can help to re-establish healthy populations of native bees. (Apis mellifera will also be used since much is known about this species and they can yield lots of honey and other products.)
  • Increasing the number of beekeepers around the Philippines and building up a good national stock of bees in beehives, in addition to allowing the native bee population to recover, would have major positive effects on resilient food supplies into the future.
  • The Food and Agriculture Organization put the value of bee pollination at up to an estimated 100 times the value of any honey produced. It is difficult to describe the positive effects for the country just in terms of money, but depending on how these effects are enumerated, the potential positive cascading effects could be measured in billions of dollars!

Summary and conclusions    (Contents menu)

How important are bees and other pollinating insects to mankind? ‘It is difficult to quantify but it is generally accepted that over a third of the food we eat depends on the unmanaged pollination services of insects’ (UK Food and Environment Research Agency). ‘Pollinators such as bees, birds and bats affect 35 percent of the world’s crop production, increasing outputs of 87 of the leading food crops worldwide, plus many plant-derived medicines’ (FAO).  In the Philippines where so many crops depend on insects (mainly bees) to a large extent for their productivity, an appreciation of pollination is vitally important and it should be a ‘hot topic’ for farmers and the wider society.

In the Philippines over the past ten or more years a downwards trend is evident in the yields of crops such as mangos, coconuts, coffee and cotton – yields now are often half what they used to be! This downwards trend can only be changed if the key common cause is understood and actions are taken to reverse the loss of the bee pollinators.  This document outlines the roles of honey hunting, the honey marketplace and beekeeping in providing a basis for an urgent solution to this important problem, if their respective roles are appreciated and managed appropriately.

There are a number of ‘if’s in this text, but all of them are ‘do-able’ if there is the understanding and will. It is desirable to try and provide more productivity and security in the food supply, and following on from that an improved environmental and socio-economic situation.  This document tries to contribute to a debate that is needed, and outlines some fundamental and achievable actions that have the potential for widespread benefits.

If dwindling crop yields in the Philippines are to be turned around then a strategy is needed to improve the pollination environment. This study has generated five key conclusions which can also be translated into recommendations.

Key recommendations for a strategy to improve the environment for bee pollinated crops, to increase the yields of many crops and improve rural incomes …

  1. Agricultural and public awareness of pollination is essential – education needs to communicate at the very simplest the following sequence of ideas …

a)   Plants have ‘sex’ to produce baby plants – seeds and fruits.
b)   Bees help the plants have sex.
c)   Without bees there will be less food and less money.

  1. The worst aspects of honey hunting need to be urgently halted using various strategies, so that the native honeybees are allowed to gradually repopulate the agricultural areas from their remaining reservoirs in the mountains.
  2. Widespread fraud in the Philippine honey marketplace needs to be tackled.
  3. A growing and vibrant beekeeping industry needs to be encouraged, that also enables viable low cost start-ups that can utilise the key native bees of Apis cerana and Trigona.
  4. The above actions would provide better future yields, agricultural incomes and food security, plus other positive social and environmental effects.  This constructive activity needs to come from multiple sources including the media, schools, universities, rural communities, supermarkets and Government authorities.

About the author    (Contents menu)

Julian Wright B.Sc. M.Phil. PGCE is the son of a British farmer. He has researched a number of agricultural topics and worked with commercial companies including Dunlop Irrigation Services (part of the Dunlop Plc group), and latterly Romany Software Ltd (a botanical software company).  As a writer and software developer, amongst other products, he is the author of ‘The Growing Plants Interactive Encyclopedia’ which has many thousands of users in 14 countries. (For more information visit the web address http://findplants.info/AboutRomany.aspx) He also has a wide teaching experience in a number of schools and universities. He is a member of his local English beekeeping society which cultivates Apis mellifera.  He works and lives mainly in England but he has also worked and lived for periods in France, Belgium, Australia, and in the Philippines.

Twelve years ago he met his wife in the Philippines and they have been married for ten years. They have relatives and a house with a plot of land (mainly planted with coconuts) in a rural area near Dumaguete.  With an appreciation of the need for sufficient pollination for the coconuts he started to undertake wider research which has led to this study.  In addition he has researched various cultivation techniques for Apis cerana and other bees which might be used in the Philippines, and has made a number of trial beehives for use in the Dumaguete area.  These trials are in an early stage and the beehives are currently being cared for by a small group of interested local farmers who are being provided with occasional ongoing advice primarily via text messages.

(This version is dated 12/06/14.)

The author welcomes any feedback that might help to improve the understanding and accuracy of the information provided in this document.

Reference list – in alphabetical order of the topic title    (Contents menu)

The list given below focuses on tropical and Asian pollination issues. There are also references on agricultural crops and other topics which have been listed to help the reader get a historical and current overview of the issues raised in this document.  Where possible an internet link has been included so that the reader can just click to go directly to the source.

Some of the references are technical and extensive with many pages (the reader can scan and note the summary sections to gain an overview, in addition to accessing more detailed information). Since this document is a synopsis of the findings, the author has not attempted to insert in the text multiple references to specific sources and page numbers.  The author welcomes any feedback and sources that might help to provide an improved understanding of the subject.

Amazing bees – general information

Apis cerana – general background

Apis mellifera and Apis cerana in Vietnam – 1992 study

Are Bees dying out? – 2014 article

The Asian honey bee (Apis cerana) and its strains – 2013 study

Asian honeybees: biology conservation and human interactions
By Oldroyd and Wongsiri
Pub: Harvard University Press 2006, 292 pages

Asian Honeybee Potential Environmental Impacts – in Australia, June 2013

Asiatic Honeybee Apis cerana: Biodiversity Conservation and Agricultural Production
by Abrol, Dharam P.
Pub: Springer August 2013, 1019 pages

Bee Industry Roadmap for the Philippines

Bee pollination and fruit set of Coffea arabica and C. canephora

Beekeeping for Honey Production in Sri Lanka: management of Asiatic hive honeybee Apis cerana in its natural tropical monsoonal environment
Punchihewa RWK (1994) Sri Lanka Dept of Agriculture, Peradeniya Sri Lanka & Canadian International Development Agency, Quebec, Canada. 232 pages

Beekeeping with oriental honeybees (Apis cerana)

Bees and their roles in forest livelihoods
Nicola Bradbear, Food and Agriculture Organisation 2009, 242 pages

Best management practices in Agriculture for sustainable use and conservation of pollinators
Sao Paulo University, Brazil – study on stingless bees

All Chinese honey is ordered off shelves (UK)

Citrus Trees that Require Cross-Pollination for Fruit Production

Cocao tree information

Coconut – farm and forestry production and marketing profile

Coconut project in Australian schools

Coffee pollination: Honeybees boost coffee yields

Conservation of Asian honey bees

Declining Agri Yield Worrisome – Philfoodex

Do Tangerine Trees Need Cross-Pollination?

Economic Potential Unlocked in Coconut

The Economic Valuation of Pollinators for Southeast
Asia: Philippines and Vietnam

Economics of bee pollination in the Philippines
Antonio D. Baconawa

Farmer sets model with integrated farming – in Kerala, Southern India with Apis cerana

Global action on pollination services for sustainable agriculture
Food and Agriculture Organisation

A Guide to Beekeeping in the Philippines
Antonio D. Baconawa

High Value Crops Development Program (RA 7900)
Department of Agriculture in Philippines

The Honey You Should Never Buy – It May Be Tainted with Lead and Antibiotics

Honeybees – nature’s pollinators

Honey Hunting and Beekeeping
Food and Agriculture Organisation

Honey Hunting information

Honey Hunters of Cambodia (Apis dorsata)

Honey Hunters of Philippines (Apis dorsata)

International Coffee Organization

International Cotton Advisory Committee

Japanese beekeeping with Apis cerana

List of crop plants pollinated by bees

Management of Philippine bees – stingless bees and honey bees
UPLB Bee Program, University of the Philippines at Los Baños

Migrating Giant Honey Bees (Apis dorsata)

More than Honey – film about pressures on Apis mellifera 2013

Neonicotinoid Pesticides and Honey Bees
Washington State University Extension Fact Sheet

Passionfruit not producing fruit

Philippine beekeeping information – some example links












Philippine Coconut Authority – Research and Development Branch

Philippine Palm Oil Development Council

Philippines Scariest – Tamboboan (Hornets)

Philippines Statistics Authority

The Plight of the Honeybee

Pollination and yield responses of cowpea

Pollination: Crop Pollination Requirements

Pollination of Apis mellifera and Trigona biroi on the Productivity of Solanaceous Crops (Philippines)
Jose T. Travero et al

Pollination of cultivated plants in the tropics
Edited by David W. Roubik
Food and Agriculture Organization: Bulletin 118     Pub: FAO 1995  194 pages

Pollination Requirements of Some Tropical Crops

Pollinator Conservation Action Plan for Sri Lanka, 2014

Research Discovers Oldest Bee, Evolutionary Link

Retreating Indigenous Bee Populations (Apis Cerana) and Livelihoods of Himalayan Farmers

Scientists discover what’s killing the bees and it’s worse than you thought (USA)

South African Mango Growers Association

Squash Pollinators of the Americas Survey

Squash (hybrid) seed production: Providing a bright future for Sto. Niño farmers

Sydney scientists work on Plan Bee in Southeast Asia

Star fruit information

Stingless: The bees of the future – an article about stingless bees in the Philippines

The value of bees for crop pollination
Food and Agriculture Organisation

Twenty-five years of progress in understanding pollination mechanisms in palms

UK government bee information website

Your Honey Probably Isn’t ‘Honey,’ And The FDA’s About To Fix That (USA)

Vanishing of the Bees – film about colony collapse disorder 2009

Why beekeeping is for keeps – in the Philippines

World Market for Honey

10 crops that would disappear without bees (just in temperate countries)

19 Crops That Would Disappear Without Bees

30 hornets vs. 30,000 bees
Hornets are very different insects to honeybees !

8 Responses to Pollination in the Philippines

  1. H Grant says:

    Brilliant! Here are a few thoughts:

    What other factors, such as an increased use of commercial pesticides, may have had an effect on crop yields?
    Is there a correlation between weather conditions 2003 -13, bee population and crop yields?
    Demand for honey appears to have increased, why is this?

    It would be useful to translate the value of Pesos in $ and/or £

    • Julian says:

      Thanks Hannah. It is an enormous topic, and there is plenty of research that needs to be done to try and tie all the possible factors together. One of the objectives of this website is to try and get a reasonable survey of current bee populations in the various regions, and then see how strong the correlations are with crop yields in those regions. Philippine yields are so low compared to equivalent countries which have evidently a high number of pollinators, and there is so much evidence that increasing the pollinators will push yields up. The published research that is out there is also indicating some similar issues of declining crop yields linked to pollinator losses in other countries such as Ghana. There is another way of looking at it — there is nothing to be lost, but a lot to be gained by trying!

  2. If we talk about pollination ecology in the Philippines, I think we can practically rule out Apis mellifera. There are simply too few colonies in the country to expect any additional value to crop pollination. We have to look at the local pollinating insects as they are the ones that have been around in this region for millions of years while A.mellifera only has been here for about 100 years. They only contribute somewhat in the direct area where they are domesticated. In the roadmap made up by UPLB it is clearly indicated where A.mellifera beekeepers are located so in those area,s we can expect maybe a different kind of pollination activity with consequently different results then in the rest of the country.
    So we have to concentrate on the local pollinating insects, the 4 different bee races and a large number of stingless bees and carpenter bees as major contributors. If pollination results are going down , it is because the local bees probably decline, not A.mellifera… Kind regards Evert Jan Robberts

    • Julian says:

      I absolutely agree with you Evert. The native bees have evolved in the tropical conditions and are best suited to the bulk of the pollination needs of agriculture in the Philippines. If the money that is being spent on promoting A. mellifera was diverted to promoting awareness of the importance of A. cerana and A. dorsata and other native bees quite rapid and long term improvements can be made. Right now I am printing local dialect awareness leaflets and handing them out to local barangays etc in our area of Negros to assess how they are received. The relatively low cost of printing and distributing such leaflets may be a cost-effective way of getting local municipalities involved in this process.

  3. Pingback: Pollination in the Philippines | Passion Fruit is my passion

  4. Elwood Beiter says:

    Excellent write-up, I’m a regular visitorof your blog. I enjoy reading your content.


  5. TJ says:

    Hi Julian, would you know if we have new researches on the effects of bee pollination in the Philippines for specific plants?

  6. Don Miller says:

    Hello, I started a A. Mellifera hive in Sept of this year. Not easy, as no beekeepers, I’m aware of, in Dumaguete area. I live in Valencia.
    I have now added second brood box, and hive seems to be healthy.
    I just came across your well written article.
    Thanks for great read.
    Don Miller

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