Lao Jungle Honey

Lao Jungle Honey Co., Ltd has been active in
Houay Xai, Bokeo Province for three years.

lao jungle honeyApis mellifera, the common European honey bee, were used and placed at various locations around Houay Xai and at Toung Poeng, an island on the Mekong River, about 50 km north of Houay Xai.  The honey collected was of very high quality, pesticide free and had excellent color and taste.  Each hive produced about 10 kilos/season.

CARE, the international aid organization, recently approached Gerry Veley and inquired if he would be interested in a 30 day consultancy “to provide technical input to a food security project in remote, mountainous areas of Pongsali province.”  The author readily accepted the offer in order to learn more about Asian beekeeping methods utilizing the indigenous bee, apis cerana.

The author toured two target villages in the district of Khua and inspected village log hives and spoke to a number of local beekeepers. The beekeepers had adapted their beekeeping techniques to their environmental and financial situation.  They make  hives from hollow logs which they find in the jungle.  The trees are usually dead and the soft pulp of the interior has decayed.  The hollow interior should have a diameter of about 15 cm. 

lao jungle honeyThe beekeepers cut the log to length, build a top and bottom and cut a hole about 2cm in diameter near the base.  The log hives are place on the outer walls of the rice houses and any portion of the hive that has contact with the rice house, is covered in buffalo dung.  The dung is also placed around the entrance to the hive.  The dung prevents ants from entering the hive to steal the egg and honey, because they will not cross over it.  The village beekeepers claim that the dung has antiseptic qualities.  This claim remains unsubstantiated. 

 A village might place as many as 800 hives in and around their village, but only about half of the log hives will be found by scout bees searching for a new home for their swarm.  Once the bees have moved in, they will build their hive on the top of the log hive and progressively work their way down the log cavity.  At harvest time, the beekeeper will remove the lid of the log hive and remove the entire contents, honey, pollen, eggs and brood.  This mixture is then placed in fine-meshed cloth and the liquid contents wrung out.

This honey and brood mixture is sold to local traders for about 25,000 Kip/liter.

Tlao jungle honeyhe disadvantages to this technique are two-fold:

1.  The extracted  honey has the brood liquid included in the honey, but this disadvantage can be readily remedied by utilizing hive boxes with frames (Langsroth, Sri Lankan or Kenyan Top Bar hives) and spinning out the honey with an extractor. 2.  The production level of the apis cerana bee is substantially lower than that of the apis mellifera.  This beekeeper is of the opinion, that, by using Western bee management techniques, the production level can be raised significantly.

This beekeeper noted, however, that the maintenance costs of the apis cerana hives was almost zero.  The bees destroyed the tropolaelaps mites that were inadvertently carried into the hive by the bees.  The hives require far less honey during the unproductive period of the year, so that the beekeeper is not required to feed the bees as much sugar.



lao jungle honey

The problem of absconding, which has always been difficult for the beekeepers of apis cerana, is mitigated if the beekeeper keeps the hives fed with sugar and pollen, during the off-season.  In addition, bees can be found in the jungle and the swarms can easily be brought back to the apiary for transfer into the frame hive.

Lao Jungle Honey Co., Ltd plans to purchase 50-100 boxes of apis cerana from Vietnam and truck to Houay Xai.  CARE-Laos in Muang Khua, will also purchase bees as part of its on-going aid program for that region.  The bees should be in place no later than late November, to take advantage of the upcoming honey flow.  The target crop for this month is eupatorium, which flowers north of Houay Xai.



Current Activities of Lao Jungle Honey Co., Ltd October 20, 2009

Gerry Veley was recently contacted by Mr. Steven Schipani, Team Leader with the GMS-Sustainable Tourism Development Project, which is being implemented by the Lao National Tourism Administration.

lao photoBan Poung Pho Log Hives


This author was asked to visit two target villages in Muang Meung District of Bokeo Province, Ban Poung Pha and Ban Tor Lae, to assess the status of indigenous beekeeping by the village farmers.  The objective of the field visits was to ascertain whether improvements in their activities would lead to an increase in the village income. The author accepted the invitation and a team of Lao support personnel, Mr. Schipani and this author departed in two cars on October 14, 2009 from Houay Xai.

We reached the first village, Ban Poung Pha, about 4 hours later.  The village tribal affiliation is White Lahu and consists of 70 families, 18 of which raise bees.  The village maintains 75 log hives, 55 of which are productive.  They claim a production of 5 liters of honey per hive/season.  The 2008 harvest yielded about 270 liters of honey.  The nectar flow starts in March and ends in early May.  This relative short nectar flow period suggests a single concentrated flora that allows for a good harvest.  The beekeepers know of no particular flora that blooms in concentration in that area,  thus further research into this nectar source is required.

The village beekeepers complain that wasps and ants are their biggest problem and they said that they lack information on how to combat these predators.  This author suggested ky kwai, or buffalo dung, to be placed around any opening in the log hive that would allow the ants to enter. This method of ant control is used in Udom Xai Province, with good results.  The villagers there also claim that buffalo dung has antiseptic qualities.  A solution for the problem of wasps is more daunting and the author suggested that a screen in front of the hive entrance would at least keep the wasps out of the hive.  The villagers could swat the wasps and then put the stunned wasps into a jar of lao-lao, the local rice whisky, for sale in China.  This author has heard rumors that the Chinese herbal shops in Bangkok and China will purchase this concoction with wasps for medicinal purposes.  This subject needs to be researched further.  There are no bears in the area to plague the bees.  The farmers place the log hives in the jungle to attract the bees and then bring the hives back to the village environs to prevent anyone from taking them.

lao photoBan Tor Lae School Children

The villagers harvest one time only, in late April or early May, and extract all comb from the log hive.  They cut out the brood, eggs and pollen, which they feed to the children.  The remaining honey comb is squeezed through a mesh and then poured into empty beer or fish sauce bottles.  The honey is then sold to traders, who visit the village periodically.  They pay about 25,000 - 30,000 Kip/liter of honey.  The villagers also collect honey from the giant honey bee, apis dorsata, for which they are compensated 20,000 - 25,000 Kip/liter.  This honey is bitter and thus commands a lower price.  The two honeys are sometimes mixed together.

The following day, on October 15, 2009,  the group visited Ban Tor Lae, also a White Lahu tribe. This village consists of 37 families (with 35 beekeepers) and maintains 60 productive hives, which average about 4 liters/hive.  The nectar source is tea and chestnuts (mak kor).  The village beekeepers have the same problems and use the same extraction method as described above.  The price for their honey is the same as cited above.

Mr. Schipani and this author discussed with the village beekeepers the desirability and feasibility of improving the quality, and later the quantity, of the village honey and agreed that there is potential for improvement in both areas.  The following proposal was agreed upon:

It is the intent of GMS-Sustainable Tourism Development Project to procure the services of this author for a 12 day consultancy.  During this period, this author will visit repeatedly the two above cited villages, and offer advice and training in the following areas:
1.   Proper cleanliness and hygiene for beekeepers.
2.   Sanitation of the equipment.
3.   Instruction in the use of the refractometer and the importance of low water content for honey.
4.   Proper storage of the harvested honey.
5.   Proper use of the bee veil and beekeeping gloves to mitigate stings.
6.   Bee sting management.
7.   Bee predator control.
8.   Marketing.
9.   Sales
10. Documentation

The latter portion of the consultancy will include a discussion/training in the following subjects:
1.  Constituent parts of the modern frame hive box.
2.  Discuss the above cited components and the feasibility of manufacturing them in the village.
3.  Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the frame hive box over the traditional log hive.
4.  Potential sales and marketing for apis dorsata honey.

In order for the village beekeepers to be more successful in their beekeeping by transitioning to more modern standards of production, they require the use of modern equipment, such as:
1.  A honey extractor modified to accept the odd shaped comb of the log hive.
2.  Beekeeping gloves and veils.
3.  Food-safe buckets for the storage of honey.
4.  Jars, lids, safety seals and labels.
5.  Sanitary transportation of equipment and personnel.

It is incumbent that GMS-Sustainable Tourism Development Project, under the supervision of this author, to supply the two villages with the above cited equipment.  In addition, the project will, if available, supply each village with 5 apis cerana  bee boxes, also procured by this author,  so that the village beekeepers can compare performance of the bee boxes against the traditional log hives.

This author will also be loaning the project sundry equipment such as scales, a refractometer, sieves, stainless steel buckets, etc., so that the initial investment of the project is minimized.