Wild Honey – the bees

What is wild honey, how is it collected, who collects it, what is special about it? All these questions were in my mind when a friend with family in Ratnikiri talked about having it when visiting family in the province recently. I was keen to find out more, and particularly to try it.

Then, up popped an advert on facebook from self-described health food restaurant, Farm to Table, together with NGO Non-Timber Forest Products, for a wild honey talk and tasting session on Saturday afternoon, 21 July 2018. I  moved from clicking on interested in the facebook events to paying my $12 on the ticket website. Just as well I did as the event sold out.

After a welcome from Brittany, the owner of Farm to Table, there was a talk from the country Coordinator of the NGO, Mr Keo Tai. He introduced his NGO and then NatureWild, a social enterprise which promotes enterprises in Cambodia working to promote the sustainable management of Cambodia’s forests, including the promotion of Khmum Prey, the wild honey.

Mr Tai talked about the four different bees in Cambodia, in particular the big bee, Apis Dorsata pictured in the book he is pointing to.  He told us that there are over 600 harvesters of honey, mostly from indigenous communities of Cambodia and that the bees are mostly in the Koh Kong area of Cambodia, on the coast near the border with Thailand, living in the Mangrove swamps but they move to the north east of Cambodia in the dry season, March to May. He talked about the different types of bees and I learnt that the queen can lay up to 2,000 eggs a day for five year, one million eggs! Before the harvesters used a spray to get to the honey but this killed drones and sometimes the queen so they are only allowed to use smoke as part of this scheme. Harvesters take only 80% of the honey so that there is something there to feed the larvae and that within 20 days the nest can be visited for honey again, though that can only happen three times in  a year.

He then went on to talk about the harvesting process. The harvesters take the honeycomb from the forest to the village where it is tested for purity before being passed on to NatureWild who work to take the water content down to around 20%, fitting in with the internationally recognised standard. Some do this through heat in order to do it quicker but that damages the enzymes meaning the quality is reduced and it again does not meet the standards. He said that many other honey producers get it from the honeycomb by squeezing it but that allows impurities into it like larvae and pollen. They get the honey by cutting the two ends off and leaving it to drain for a few hours, which takes longer but results in better honey.

In response to questions, Mr Tai said that 5% of the income goes into funding forestry protection. The elephant in the room being the links, said to go to the top of the government, that have seen a lot of the forest removed and shipped to Vietnam to provide fortunes to the people behind it as well as the phenomenal amount of sand taken from the mangrove swamps in Koh Kong to help Singapour expand its boundaries but, at the same time, damage the Mangrove Swamps in Koh Kong.  I was quite amazed to hear that one tree can have 100 nests on for these bees, so long as they are 1 metre apart, whereas other bees in Cambodia have to have 100 metres between nests. The honey in Cambodia is mostly used for medicine when people have digestive problem or a wound to help repair it. He was asked if it is true that a metal spoon should not be used with honey, but it should be wood. He explained that the vessels used by the organisation are stainless steel as fit in with the international regulations. The biggest threats to bees in Cambodia are deforestation and pesticides. The people in the forests have been running these businesses collecting honey for generations, it is the involvement of the enterprise which has resulted in them doing it in more of a sustainable way. There are 21 groups collecting the honey in the country producing 10 tonnes a year compared with a demand for honey in Cambodia 10 years ago was put at 500 tonnes!

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