A seminar and workshop was held at the Growing Diversity Park (BIOTHAI) surrounded by durian orchards, Nonthaburi on 24 September 2022. The event allowed us to get to know more about bee and pollinator friendly farming system, especially for pollinators that live in both city-urban and rural area-countryside. The activities included planting of flowers in the vegetable plot, walking paths on the garden, to planting flowers in narrow areas such as balconies, shophouses or condos that support pollinators restoration. The flowers will provide nectars which is useful for bees and pollinators and will lead to increasing crop's yields.
When talking about bees, we always look at it as just a "Honey giver", which is estimated to be worth more than 43 billion baht in terms of honey production for the whole world. Compared to the value of pollination by bees that most people neglect. It is worth up to 6,579,000 million baht. Because of there are many food crops require bees or other insects to help to pollinate plants to bear fruits. There are many types of plants that need bee pollination, such as strawberries, rambutans, tomatoes, guavas, pumpkins, and melons, sage, basil, lychees, longans, coconuts or palms, and many more.
Besides the ecological value, the services that bees and pollinators offer us are often neglected. The nectar or honey itself, many people see it as just food that gives us sweet taste/flavouring. But in fact, honey has medicinal values, as said by Assoc. Prof. Dr. Orawan Duangpakdee, Head of the Native Honeybee and Pollinator Center (NHBEE/BeePark), King Mongkut's University of Technology Thonburi (KMUTT) she shared, “Honey is not just food. It is because the bio-products in honey come from pollen and nectar from each flower that bees collect for their food."
Therefore, we cannot deny that flowers play a huge role in the taste, texture and quality of honey. From the advice of Mr. Weerawit Intaraprayong (Benz), a farmer in Nakhon Sawan province, who collects more than 120 types of honey. He said that in fact, honey has a smell, clarity and viscosity that is specific to each forest area. Because each forest has plant that produces different nectar in each area. Honey has 4 tastes: sour, bitter, sweet, fragrant, and therefore has a different lead. Some types produce sour taste while some brought a sweet taste. Moreover, honey is a product that has no expiration date, and it is worth to know that the honey market is growing higher every year.
As honey is an agricultural product with high market potential. Many sectors have begun to encourage farmers to turn to beekeeping as an additional source of income along with the conservation of more local bee species. The impact of global warming, cultivation and product development of bees in the tropics are very limited. Most often from the United States and Western countries. This makes the work of promoting the cultivation and conservation of pollinators in Thailand is very challenging. With limited knowledge of genetics and taxonomy of bees, this makes it difficult for researchers to identify the species of bees or stingless bee. The design of the culturing system is therefore difficult. The big problem that follows is inbreeding or interbreeding. This causes the young insects or their larvae to become weak and die in almost the entire nest, and it frequently brings economic damage to the beekeepers. Moreover, the study of production systems that are conducive to the conservation of pollinator's diversity is still very new in Thailand.
Agricultural systems, whether chemical or organic, are known to affect the diversity of pollinators by many shades. For example, the study of Asst. Prof. Dr. Alyssa Stewart, Lecturer of the Department of Botany, Faculty of Science, Mahidol University, compared the diversity of pollinators in guava plantations which are cultivated by chemical and organic systems. It was found that guava plantations in both systems were predominantly using stingless bees and honeybees. Honey bees, burrowing bees, and royal bees respectively. Blue bees, bumble bees, burrowing bees, flies and weevils may sometimes be found.
Although the number of visits to guava plants by pollinators is not different from both chemical and organic guava plantations. However, organic guava plantations were more diverse and the number of guava plants was higher than chemical plantations. In general guava orchards found only 5 species, while organic guava orchards found more than 8 types of pollinators, of which blue bees, bumble bees, royal bees and hollow bees are more often found in organic guava gardens than in the guava garden where both systems are grown
In addition to the form of the production system Dr. Orawan also discussed several interesting environmental factors affecting the change in bee population size and stature. especially the rising temperature due to the conversion of natural forests to agricultural and residential areas. Even in fact, cutting down forests and turning them into houses or farmland. The heat may increase as little as 0.5 to 2.0 degrees Celsius, but this will result in a reduction in bees and brood/larvae. The study found that bee mortality increases sharply at temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius and all bees die at 45 degrees Celsius, which in urban areas where bees are more affected by the heat than in the rural area.
However, even the city faces higher heat than the countryside. It does not mean that beekeeping in the city is an impossible thing. Ms. 'Kal' Phavida Kritsaran, a urban beekeeper on a 23rd floor condominium, revealed that even at present, nectar beekeeping in urban areas is still having several limitations. But beekeeping with stingless bee species could answer these limitations. because it is very small, no noise. Plus, you can find many types of flowers for stingless bees. Whether it's blue paniculata, aloe vera, sweet basil, golden penda, which can be easily planted on the balcony of the room. Along with flowering plants outside the condo such as mango, husks, bananas. These flowers are all good sources of food for the stingless bees. The beekeeping on urban building has thus contributed to pollination and honey to the beekeepers. It relieves stress and relax from work, and contribute to improving the quality of life and the environment.
As revealed by Mr. 'Jack' Manrat Thitithanakul, a village headman and bee farmer from Village No. 11, Ban Kha Subdistrict, Ban Kha District, Ratchaburi Province, a concrete reflection that beekeeping has contributed to community development in a more sustainable way. He shared although organic guava plantations still lack sources of organic products and the government does not support them as they should. This causes farmers to bring organic produce to sell at normal market prices. If the produce is damaged by the insect piercing, the organic product price will be pressed down by the middleman until selling the product is not worth the cost. This forced farmers in the area to turn back to the old chemicals way, despite the awareness of the negative health effects.
Instead, stingless bees indirectly promote organic farming by relying on guava flowers as a food source and additional income from selling honey to compensate for guava crops damaged by pest invasion. In addition, beekeeping helps farmers in the surrounding areas to use less chemicals indirectly, because normally the guava plants must be injected with chemicals in order not to affect other plants in the neighboring areas. These case studies are therefore crucial to the future of bee conservation.
For these reasons, APIA (Asian Pollinator Initiatives Alliance), a collaborative project between the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), was born to develop and disseminate important knowledge on pollinator farming alongside conservation of local species in the future. Through this event as the 11th APIA Seminar Activity “Restoring Bee Populations... with Community and Natural Farming” on 24 September 2022 in collaboration with BIOTHAI Foundation, Earth Net Foundation, Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung Southeast Asia, GO Organics Group, Thai-PAN Group, and the Thai Health Promotion Foundation to invite urban residents to see the importance of bees and pollinators more.
The APIA seminar was well received by the participants. Most participants think that beekeeping contributes to a better environment. encourage people to turn to plant more flowers, the farmers who grow flowers as a career saw a way to increase their income. Help to create a network or exchange of knowledge among participants in the event. The communication and knowledge sharing of bee and pollinator conservation to the general public still needs to be done.
Lastly, whether we want to keep beekeeping as a supplementary occupation or conservation of bee species or local stingers. The first thing you have to do is to plant flowers.
Panus Danpitakkul is project officer at WWF Thailand.
This article first published by WWF Thailand in Thai language. Translation from Thai by Fransiskus Tarmedi
The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of Heinrich Böll Stiftung.