No. of :

No. of Shares:

Currently viewed by: Marcus Rosit

Beekeeping harmony: How stingless bees sweeten the lives of Higaonon tribe in Claveria

In the heartland of Malaybalay, Bukidnon, where the air is crisp and the mountains stand tall, a unique harmony of nature unfolds.

Here, amidst the lush greenery and thriving biodiversity, the sweet hum of tiny wings fills the air, a testament to the wonders of stingless bees, locally known as "kiyot." These diminutive pollinators have not only become the guardians of biodiversity but also purveyors of liquid gold—honey, that is.

The sweet and nutrient-dense honey has been used and considered a wonder elixir in ancient times and is cited in the Bible for its long shelf life.

The buzz among local beekeepers and Asian Apiculture Association (AAA) member Reynaldo Gil "Datu Makadingding" Lomarda is that stingless bees, or kiyot, indirectly promote organic farming.

As the founder and farm owner of Umanika Eco Cultural Farm in Malaybalay, Bukidnon, Datu Makadingding integrates stingless beekeeping into 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 in the Philippines, Datu Makadingding emphasized the bee’s many advantages as the choice of bees among the Higaonons in their respective barangays in Claveria. Compared to other bees such as Asian honey bees 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 that is infected by the spore-forming bacterium Paenibacillus larvae.

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

"The reason nga atong bees (stingless) ang gigamit, aron dili maglisod ug pangita since endemic siya [The reason why we use our local bees is because of their availability since they are 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 high maintenance [they are not high maintenance]," Datu Makadingding said.

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 kicked off, initiated by GreenMinds Incorporated, in partnership with the Agricultural Training Institute-Regional Training Center (ATI-RTC)-10 in May 2022, in the households of Claveria and Medina and with DTI-Misamis Oriental in Gitagum and Gingoog City.

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

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), 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 prices. Another set of bee boxes was furnished for another round of beekeeping.

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 pollen and nectar 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 boxful of stingless bee colonies is between P2,000 and P350 per kilo for both pollen and honey.

As the founder and farm owner of Umanika Eco Cultural Farm in Malaybalay, Bukidnon, Datu Makadingding integrates stingless beekeeping into his farm to promote mass pollination of the farm’s highland vegetables, herbs, and fruit trees. (ATI-10)

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 for 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]," Datu Makadingding said.

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 harvested the following harvest season.

Datu Makadingidng also shared that stingless bees naturally choose two to three virgin queens on standby to keep the colony alive. Also, dili atangan ang flight path sa stingless bees para dili maalaan nga intruder, ug dili sila ma-agitate", he added.

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 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. 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 it gives the other bees a chance 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 called drip harvesting by removing the honey pots and letting them drip overnight in a clean container. 

"Sustainable harvesting happens when 50 to 75 percent lang ang i-harvest [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 pagkakaron, enterprise level na ang community sa Sitio Kalhaan diri 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 tranfer sa colony sa bee box [At the moment, the community in Sitio Kalhaan here in Minalwang is enterprise level, and we are very grateful to GreenMinds Incorporated that in their 23 years of engagement in community development, through Datu Makadingding, we have trained how to plaster and transfer the colony in a bee box]," shared Maria Tenila L. Pina-andel, Kalhaan Kabahiyanan Association president.

Apart from the shared wisdom, the hard work and perseverance in this desire are what they are trying to do so that the 51 members who were organized last February will 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.

For more on stingless beekeeping, one may watch Agristoryahay sa ATI Season 2 episode 16 here: v=RKTQArVEftM. (ATI-10/PIA-10)

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. (ATI-10)

About the Author

Recthie Paculba

Regional Editor

Region 10

Camiguin Information Center Manager 

Feedback / Comment

Get in touch