After 28 days of traveling around West Malaysia, visiting researchers, professors and bee keepers, I had finally reached the place where all things will take place, Kampung Temasek, Ulu Tiram, Johore.
Kampung Temasek is the main reason why I did this tedious feasibility study. Before we can ascertain that the project will take off on the right foot, we have to make sure that the potential of having a bee education centre and the introduction of beekeeping into the community will benefit all parties involved.
For those who are unfamiliar with this project, basically Kampung Temasek is about “The School of doing”.
Kampung Temasek, The School of Doing is an outdoor laboratory for schools to run their curriculum such as mathematics, science, geography, history and others in a natural environment. Schools can experiment programs and activities that they cannot usually do in Singapore. For example, students can spend one week from their academics semester to learn mathematics through build a solar oven by calculating how much energy is collected from the sun and the science involve in cooking an egg or they can walk into the forest to learn about the bio-diversity and how the eco-system work. Our aim is to reinforce the students’ learning through Doing. City schools can now access this outdoor learning platform in just 30 minutes after Singapore Customs, in Johor Bahru, Malaysia!
There will be many activities at the Kampung and my responsibility is to convert one of these houses into a educational centre where the younger generation or public will have an opportunity to get up close and personal with one of the most amazing insect, the honeybees. It will be a paradigm shift for them to overcome the fear and to learn to live these them harmoniously.
Other than serving as a bee education centre, it will also be a place for the local community or “Orang Asli” to come forward to be trained as bee farmer, to have another source of income to provide for their family. In fact we had already identified a village to begin with.
When everything is completed, Kampung Temasek will be a place where schools can bring the students to learn more about outdoors activities, closer to nature. Parents with their children, can explore on something more meaning, like understanding how trees, plants and insects help in balancing the ecological system instead of sitting in front of the computer 24/7.
Reaching home on 28th evening, I then realized that my whole body was aching from all the traveling. Somehow the biological clock inside me was telling me its time I need a break. I can feel my whole body crashing in with flu, cough and fatigue.
I am finally home.
I had an amazing time when I visited Azman, a bee farmer in Bangi, Kuala Lumpur. We started communicating some time last year this time and he knew I was heading to Malaysia this time of the year. He told me I must come visit his apiary and share with me his enthusiasm.
I was really impressed with his achievement and his apiary is the first that I came across that uses Africa beekeeping method, the Kenyan Top Bar hive system. I would not be surprised he is the first in this part of the world that applied top bar beekeeping.
This visit meant a lot to me because on this feasibility study, I wanted and needed to know how api cerana will react to top bar hive method of beekeeping. In Uganda, African honeybees do very well with KTB and I am very familiar with the method. I felt like I was back in Uganda when I approached Azman’s apiary. On top of that, I feel that top bar beekeeping is more economical for the local folks. They do not need to acquire expensive langstroth and to buy European bees to start this enterprise. By the way, the cost of 1 langstroth, comes with bees, cost RM1,800 (US$625). That package provides only the brood box, base board and cover. It does not include the queen-excluder and super. I don’t think many local villagers can afford that kind of money to start the business.
I was greeted by a large plantation of star fruit and I am confident that his bees would have no issues on nectar and pollen source. I saw the bees buzzing happily around the flowers only stopping for a moment when there were about to enter the flowers.
This was his first attempt in keeping bees and I can say that he was already doing it well although there were some pointers that he needed to look into. He had teamed up with his friend, Haniz and both are equally passionate about keeping bees.
They started only with one colony. By the time I visited them two days ago, they already had colonized 6 hives. The development of their apiary had set a good example for all. For a start, they did not spend money on buying bees or expensive equipment. They collected used wooden crates and palettes. With no prior experience and based on their own judgment, recycled these planks and palettes into smaller version of the top bar hives. Everything was going through trails and errors. Somehow the bees still found their way to these hives.
When Azman did his first hive, he wanted to see the activities within. He created a glass window on the side of the hive. This had became his observation hive. Very often he would simply open up the side panel to see these lovely ladies working hard.
Api cerana somehow has a bit of her distant cousins (api mellifera scutellata) behaviour. They can be aggressive at times if not handled properly. Azman and Haniz would have to spend more time with them to learn more about their behaviour and to overcome them.
Azman had always wondered how do we handle African honeybees without protective gear. I told him it would be much easier because api cerana or asian bees are not as aggressive as the African cousins. He was pleased when he saw the real thing after having seen my blog during our training program where most of the participants were trained to handle the African honeybees bare hands.
The bus ride from Kedah to Kuala Lumpur took almost 6 hours. I had a break in Kuala Lumpur before a friend of mine drove me another 2 hours further South to the thriving city of Malacca.
Extracted from Wikipedia - Malacca (dubbed The Historic State or Negeri Bersejarah among locals) is the third smallest Malaysian state, after Perlis and Penang. It is located in the southern region of the Malay Peninsula, on the Straits of Malacca. It borders Negeri Sembilan to the north and the state of Johor to the south. The capital is Malacca City, which is 148 km south east of Malaysia’s capital city Kuala Lumpur, 235 km north west to Johor’s largest city Johor Bahru and 95 km north west to Johor’s second largest city Batu Pahat. This historical city centre has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 7 July 2008.
Although it was the location of one of the earliest Malay sultanates, the monarchy was abolished when the Portuguese conquered it in 1511. The Yang di-Pertua Negeri or Governor, rather than a Sultan, acts as the head of state now.
Mr. Ong had been a beekeeper for the last 25 years and his bee farm could be considered one of the largest one in the whole of West Malaysia. He used to keep apis cerana in the seventies but after the introduction of European bees, apis italiana, Malaysia honey industry using apis cerana was completly wiped out due to the introduction of viruses by the European species as well.
Since then, the domestication of apis cerana had been unsuccessful until of late, many small scale farmers are beginning to use apis cerana again. it is a good sign that these species coming back.
Right now, Mr Ong had been keeping the European species after learning how to treat them. He does not have any of the asian species anymore but instead started to keep stingless bees. He found keeping stingless bees are very interesting too.
My third destination was Malaysia’s Federal Agriculture Marketing Authority or FAMA in Kuala Nerang, Kedah. FAMA is a marketing agency established by the Government under the Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry. As the Government’s marketing arm for agricultural products, FAMA is responsible for various marketing activities. Amongst its responsibilities are to set targets and product standards, monitor performance, as well as develop marketing strategies for Malaysian agricultural products. Their job role can be summarised into the following;
Market control and extension, Strategies, Development of national food terminal, Marketing contract, Entrepreneur development, Export manuals, Development of marketing infrastructure, Market information and Branding and promotion.
The setup was very professional and their marketing concept for Malaysia’s most popular honey, “Tualang honey” was very successful. I was really impressed with their presentation in the beginning. After a long discussion and exhange of ideas, my views changed.
There was a video presentation at their sales department. Eco-tourism was being promoted at the sales centre. It showed the beauty of Malaysia rain forest and the mesmerizing journey one can embark on to see the untouched virgin forest. You pay MYR400 to join the eco tour.
One of the main attraction were the sighting of the largest honeybees in the world, Apis Dorsata. You can see them colonizing on the tallest tree, the Tualang tree. You can even see these majestic colony from the ground. You get to see the harvesting of their honey during the night. Now here comes the sad part. In the video, I saw the destruction and killing of these incredible insect. These honey hunters climbed the tall trees to get to them. Once they were within range, they would use fire and smoke to chase and kill them in order to get to their honey. During the collection, many bees perished.
Being a bee keeper and a bee lover, I felt the pain when I saw the destruction during the harvesting process. Well I guess there is always this case where the market demand, supply have to be met.
Due to the demand created by the market force, these honey were harvested as soon as the bees place them into the combs, even though when they were still unripe. Api Dorsata are very aggressive when comes to protecting their nest. The only way these local folks knew were to destroy them in order to get to their honey.
The meeting ended with a tour to their honey processing plant. I left the place with a nice gift produced by FAMA.
It was a 7 hours drive from Penang to Kota Bahru, Kelantan. The road was challenging with many sharp bends two third of the way. I put on my safety belt after what I had experienced in March. The bus was traveling at 120km on a 70km speed limit road. I just prayed that I can reach there in one piece.
My first visit in Kelantan was the University of Science of Malaysia (Universiti Sains Malaysia). This is where all the research on the medicinal values of honey in Malaysia were done. A number of honeybee species found in Malaysia . Mainly they are the “Apis Dorsata”, “Apis Mellifera”, “Apis Cerenas” and “Trigonas”. Currently they are also working on a type of honey harvested in their traditional honey hunting method by their local people, (Orang Asli). They called it, “TuaLang” honey. I had seen many places selling this brand of honey and they are selling like hot cakes now.
This feasibility study had made me understand more about the honey industry in Malaysia. There were so many issues one can never imagine. There are more to it than meets the eye.
Just going into the second day, I began to see the similarities between Malaysia and Uganda when come to this industry. Honey hunting is still the predominant method used among the local community or the “Orang Asli”. The only difference was that in Malaysia, they need to climb very tall trees (Tualang tree) to harvest honey from Apis Dorsata while in Uganda, honey hunter collect honey from crevices, ant hill and hollow trunks.
Although it was the fasting month and usually this is the most busy part of the year, all the Professors and researchers were very helpful and I left the place with all the information needed for my study. Later in the day I was invited to a local who kept honeybees for their outward bound education camp. Finally after one month, I was introduced to these ladies in Malaysia.
Before my feasibility study officially starts next Monday, my hands were already itching, not from bee stings, but getting ready for my hands on with the beekeeping industry in Malaysia.
I realized that this place belongs to Mr Ong, who has another tourist attraction located at Malacca. Somehow the set up was similar but on a smaller scale.
There were two sales ladies manning the shop. They were basically there to answer simple questions about honey and to introduce the different kinds of honey available for sale. Other than that, you would not be able to get in depth questions being answered.
I was surprised to get this information from one of them. She mentioned that only hornets and wasps venom can kill, not honeybees. She even assured me that honeybees venom are not poisonous and has healing properties. Well, I felt that this information was very misleading. She was right and wrong at the same time. All of us react differently to bee venom. Some can take a few thousand stings but others can be killed with only one sting. Some react violently to the venom and can go into anaphylactic shock which can lead to death if not attend to immediately. There are some medical benefit being investigated regarding honeybee venom in relation to apitherapy. Some Therapists use honeybee venom to relieve people who have arthritis. But that does not mean the honeybee venom can be applied to everybody.
Many people in Asia I came across, often believe what these sales ladies say. They would simply take their words for it without probing further. I asked a few more questions and then decided to stop because I knew it would be pointless for me to pursue further.
They had a row of beehives on display. Only 2 hives were occupied, one with an Italian species while the other colony is a species commonly found in Malaysia. They are called “Trigonas”. These bees are also called “stingless bees”.
This place do have a great varieties of honey and its by products. Its educational approach was somehow comprehensive enough for laymen. Anyway, many would not know what sort of questions to ask. Overall presentation was good. But somehow, I felt that the sale ladies should upgrade themselves with better and correct knowledge in order to provide more in depth information for the customer to understand. I felt there is too much emphasis on trying to sell the product.
Little knowledge is dangerous.