The Bees and Queen Bees: How Native Stingless Bees Empower Women in Sorsogon

Written by Gabrielle Suleida Felongco
Illustration by Cedric David Cortez
Published 16 March 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic affected various industries across the country, leading to business shutdowns and layoffs. Despite the increasing problem of job insecurity, women in Bulusan, Sorsogon are among the fortunate Filipinos who were able to earn stable incomes and provide for their families amid lockdowns. Their source of income may not be the usual type of businesses people nowadays are adopting. Surprising for some, but the answer lies in beekeeping, which also reveals a lesson or two on sustainable farming.

Pollinators have a strong influence on ecological relationships, ecosystem conservation, and genetic variation. Bees are needed in farm regions to pollinate cultivated crops and maintain biodiversity in non-cultivated areas. In a tropical climate, stingless bees are active all year and only experience inactivity during cooler weather. Stingless bees are harmless to humans unless their nests are disturbed. They are known to be excellent pollinators and exhibit the behaviors of efficient pollinators. [1] Though the beekeeping industry in the Philippines has increased in number over the past years, most beekeepers are not aware of the plants stingless bees use to build their hives. Beekeeping could play an important role in forest conservation and agriculture. [2]

There are several species of stingless bees endemic in the Philippines, among them is Tetragonula biroi (commonly called “Kiwot”). This species is commonly used in beekeeping. [2] Balay Buhay sa Uma Bee Farm (BBU), a farm in Bulusan, Sorsogon, utilizes this native species of stingless to produce honey and boost the pollination of coconut trees.

The farm’s owner, Luz Gamba-Catindig, expanded her business of beekeeping to include coconut plantations after she realized that Kiwot bees are excellent pollinators. [3] Recently, stingless bees increased the coconut yields in her farm by around 50%. They could expect a higher yield because research shows that Kiwot bees can boost coconut harvest by up to 80%. [4] Among the native plants that could also be found in her three-hectare farm are Canarium ovatum (Pili tree), a tree cultivated commercially in their region for its nuts, Syzygium tripinnatum or “hagis”, a berry tree whose fruit is turned into jams, juice, and jelly. [3]   

Cantidig’s love for trees encouraged her to afforest the foothills of Mount Bulusan. She later discovered that it could be possible through pollinator-friendly agroforestry, a land management system that enables crops to live alongside trees. [3] Together with her coconut farmers, Catindig trained under the University of the Philippines Los Banos (UPLB) Bee Program. In turn, her bee farm became a learning site for aspiring beekeepers and crop growers. As a techno-demo farm, they are able to train more bee hunters and community members because of the sponsored programs. [4] They would also learn that there is no need to destroy forests to acquire honey and they become aware of the different livelihood opportunities beekeeping provides.

Catindig employs local women to tend to the pasture and process bee products. In maintaining the bee pasture, gardeners are employed to water, remove dry leaves, and weed dead plants. It is a crucial job that keeps the bee pasture in good shape, which the bees depend on for the quantity and quality of the honey they produce. The farm sells products at its gates, mostly pollen and propolis products processed by women. [3] The presence of bee pastures in the region has been known to give job opportunities to local women. These women keep their jobs despite the numerous typhoons that devastate their region annually.  

More women in the community follow Catindig’s footsteps as the agri-training programs cater to women due to the job’s meticulous nature. The training involves several processes such as pollen picking, propolis separation, and honey extraction. These livelihood opportunities can prevent family breadwinners from engaging in environmentally harmful activities to earn their wages. Agribusinesses such as bee farms encourage women in local communities to learn new skills to process products made by natural sources. They could earn stable wages and support their families through sustainable means.

References

  1. Travero JT, Nuez IL, Sagliba WS. Pollination of Apis mellifera and Trigona biroi on the Productivity of Solanaceous Crops. International Journal of Environmental and Rural Development. 2012;3(2):99-102.
  2. Barrera WB, Brosas JV, Sacil MD. Pollen sources of Tetragonula Biroi (Friese, 1898) (hymenoptera: Apidae, Meliponini) in two agroecosystems in Nagcarlan, Laguna, Philippines. Palynology. 2020;45(2):215–23.
  3. Conde M. A Philippine stingless bee helps boost coconut yields and empower women [Internet]. Mongabay Environmental News. 2020 [cited 2022Mar11]. Available from: https://news.mongabay.com/2020/09/a-philippine-stingless-bee-helps-boost-coconut-yields-and-empower-women/#:~:text=A%20Philippine%20stingless%20bee%20helps%20boost%20coconut%20yields%20and%20empower%20women,-by%20Mavic%20Conde&text=The%20farm%2C%20owned%20by%20Luz,yields%20by%20up%20to%2080%25
  4. Conde M. How beekeeping helped a Sorsogon Coconut Farm [Internet]. Rappler. 2018 [cited 2022Mar13]. Available from: https://www.rappler.com/moveph/209308-kiwot-bees-sorsogon-farm-increase-coconut-production/ 

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