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Helping our South East Asian neighbours develop a beekeeping industry


Sharlene King
6 May 2015
With beekeeping emerging as a viable income stream in parts of South East Asia, Southern Cross University researchers are heading to Timor Leste and Indonesia this week to evaluate the fledgling industry.

Associate Professor David Lloyd, from the School of Environment, Science and Engineering, will travel there with Honours student Cooper Schouten and NSW Department of Primary Industries head beekeeper Dr Doug Somerville as part of the ACIAR (Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research) Beekeeping Project scoping study, worth $46,000.

Professor Lloyd, a second generation beekeeper, said communities in Timor Leste and rural Indonesia had traditionally depended heavily on agriculture to service subsistence and export economies.

“Beekeeping is a low maintenance, low investment opportunity. It opens up income streams for veterans of the independence struggle in Timor Leste (who don’t have access to land), women and the poor.

“We are also looking to develop different types of hives, as alternatives to boxes weighing as much as 40 kilograms, which can be used by women.

“For people who are landless and poor, the beauty of beehives used around the home is that each hive generates several hundred dollars per year. A study I did in West Timor several years ago found that two beehives were worth one cow.”

Professor Lloyd said the small Asian honey bee, Apis cerena was suitable to beekeeping activities.

“As part of the scoping project, we will be trying to determine some of the problems associated with beekeeping, including disease.”

Professor Lloyd said that in both Indonesia and Timor Leste, wild honey was collected from the nests of the giant Asian honey bee (A. dorsata) in destructive, non-sustainable ways.

“This involves climbing a tree with a burning branch to cut down the hive, a dangerous activity assigned to the oldest or youngest in the group.

“This has the dual problem of destruction of the bees’ hive and danger to the honey collector being attacked in the tree tops, resulting in a large number of serious and fatal injuries every year. So this project is about making honey collection safer, too.”

Another critical reason for Australia’s involvement in beekeeping in South East Asia was in the management of A. cerena’s impact back home. A. cerena was already established in Cairns and the species could have a severe negative impact on beekeeping activities and pollination services in northern Queensland, the Northern Territory, and Western Australia.

Professor Lloyd said the Asian bee competed for food with the European variety (A. mellifera) and carried mites that could devastate the commercial bee population.

“Production-based research in Timor Leste and Indonesia designed to improve hive design and A. cerena genetics will be directly and rapidly transferable to Australia’s tropical north should an impact on pollination services occur. An added benefit is that improved capacity building with Timor Leste should assist in remedying short-term skill shortages in Australia’s apiculture industry.”

Photo: Hives built for the small Asian honey bee (A. cerena) in Timor Leste’s displaced communities.