- More Coverage of Tag’s Plan Bee Project -
September 19, 2015
Sweet plans for future of Shan honey
Myanmar is set to export about 3500 tonnes of the sweet stuff this year, and experts say the “Made in Myanmar” honey label may soon spread.
Rabbi Yossi Ives, chief executive of Tag International Development, a charity, said 30 years ago Vietnam had no beekeeping tradition to speak of and little in the way of exports, but now it is a world leader in honey.
Myanmar’s production is also growing, and with it comes the opportunity to build a national brand among the world’s honey consumers.
U Aung Khaing Htwe, secretary of the Myanmar Apiculture Association, said that this year’s honey season, which lasts from September to May, is already slated to be better than last year’s.
“There have been no obstacles this year so far. Last year our honey farms received complaints from locals,” he said. Chinese competition had also been stiff last year.
U Aung Khaing Htwe said it will be hard to estimate exports exactly, as much depends on the weather.
In 2014-15 a total of 3551 tonnes were exported, and 2490 tonnes in 2013-14, he said, adding there had been continual increases in exports since 2005.
Bulk honey sells abroad for US$0.80 to $1.50 a pound ($1.76 to $3.31 a kilogram). Most domestic producers export honey to the region, with only about 10 percent of product used in Myanmar, mostly for traditional medicine, he said.
U Aung Zan Htwe, deputy director general at the Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries and Rural Development, said it is important to raise awareness among communities and farmers about the benefits of bees – such as pollination and production of honey.
“The major challenge is that people don’t know how much they can profit from beekeeping,” he said.
The apiculture sector had previously focused on simply raising bees, and only now has started focusing on public awareness and sharing technology among beekeepers.
Exporters need a recommendation from the government that the honey is being produced locally, with the exports themselves handled by the 13 companies in the business, though there are 120,000 beehives in the country.
With growing honey demand, the number of producers could also increase. Tag has started a beekeeping program call Plan Bee, with a location in the Shan hills.
Plan Bee is training about 500 new beekeepers in five Shan State townships – Pindaya, Ywar Ngan, Kalaw, Taunggyi and Nyaung Shwe – according to Saw Aung Myint, head of mission at Tag International Development. “There will be nearly 1000 bee hives in those five townships,” he said. “Until now there were only 16 private bee keepers in all of Shan State, before the project was launched.”
Rabbi Ives said the goal is not to create a museum, but a place where people can come to experience bee keeping, something they would otherwise not come into contact with.
The location in Shan State is near tourist attraction the Golden Cave, and aims to attract tourists in much the same way the Shan State vineyards do.
“We want them to learn and have an actual understand of how beehives work, what equipments are used,” he said. “In the future, we also hope to offer short beekeeping courses for tourists.” Visitors can try on a beekeeping suit and give the business a short try for a few hours, also learning the different tastes of honey and understanding the different qualities.
The centre hopes to attract 10,000 tourists this year, reckoning there were about 30,000 visitors to Pindaya in 2013, with more every year.
The whole project has received funding from the multi-donor Livelihoods and Food Security Trust Fund (LIFT), which is still in progress, with expertise from Israel.
The Pindaya centre, though, is only now beginning, though Rabbi Ives said he has big hopes for it, as well as the honey industry in Myanmar.
It may have taken 30 years of Vietnam to develop its honey industry, but this could happen more quickly in Myanmar. “We are going to open a bee keeping centre here, and it will help millions of people to find out all over the world about Myanmar honey, and to see Myanmar makes good honey,” he said. “We think it can be done.”