Other than honey and sugary products, bees have something sweeter to offer.
Aside from being a lucrative source of income to farmers, beekeeping is now becoming a promising job for people who want to have a stable income.
Other countries have enlisted beekeeping as one of the most in-demand jobs today. Countries like Canada and Australia offer as high as $4,000 or close to P155,000 salary a month for workers in this industry. Filipinos are already part of the beekeeping industry and employment agencies have been constantly sending workers abroad since 2006.
Until now, academic institutions and private organizations are conducting beekeeping trainings and seminars all over the country. One of the notable bee farms that conduct trainings on beekeeping is located in Km 31, Panabo City, Davao del Norte. It is owned and operated by a 62-year-old farmer entrepreneur Epifanio Loyola, Jr.
The Loyola Bee Farm started culturing honey bees way back in 1980. Loyola said that his business contributes to environment conservation and help in the increase of production of agricultural crops—through pollination.
When a rural bank offered loan to the farmers who wanted to start their honey bee production, the Panabo Beekeepers Cooperative was formed, initially with eight members. Through the the bank’s financial assistance, the productivity of the bee farm increased just after several months.
Loyola’s honey bee products reached wider markets as he started distributing in Mindanao and some supermarkets in Manila. Loyola’s honey production rate rose significantly compared to other producers, so curious stakeholders started visiting his farm to learn about his technology and best practices.
The road to success wasn’t at all that smooth for Loyola. He suffered setbacks like slow supply of queens and vanishing honey bees. Apparently, the regular supply of queens could hardly keep up with the growing demand for production.
The humble farmer revealed that in 2015, the beekeeping industry also experienced a major setback when small hive beetles, which were first sighted in Lupon, Davao Oriental, threatened the production of bees.
The beetles affected the conservation of indigenous bees and pollination activities in many areas. This phenomenon was the first-ever recorded infestation in the Philippines.
More than the phenomenon, changes in climate and the effect of typhoons were the significant environmental factors that also affected the normal cycle of the bees resulting in the unsuccessful existence of queens in the social colonies.
“Since we hardly breed queens here because of predators, we resorted to importing queen bees which is very costly,” Loyola exclaimed. The unforeseen event brought damage in the honey production industry resulting in income losses.
Despite the problems besetting the industry, Loyola persevered and thought of regularly training the farmers on proper raising of bees, highlighting the value of good agricultural practices. He believes that stimulating beekeeping in rural areas is extremely important.
Loyola began to give casual lectures and informal talks to interested farmers. Even farmers from faraway places have opted to set up tents just to attend his beekeeping trainings.
“As the number of participants increased day by day, I found it difficult to accommodate all of them. I had no choice but to ask for training fees to defray expenses on food and proper accommodation for the farmers,” Loyola said.
Returning the favor
Now, Loyola offers two-day lectures on proper beekeeping for a fee of P1,500 per participant. The amount also covers an extensive three-month hands-on training, instilling knowledge and proper techniques on hive management.
“The training module includes hive and material-making: queen rearing, uniting and splitting colonies, honey, pollen and propolis production, and marketing,” said Loyola.
“It was never part of my plan to train beekeepers but when the demand got higher in the country, I used the opportunity to help other people who want to engage in this business,” Loyola added.
With his success in the beekeeping industry, opportunities came knocking for Loyola. He was offered a teaching position for Apiculture at the University of the Philippines-Los Baños and Don Mariano Memorial Marcos State University.
However, he declined the offer since he said that he can “share more of his knowledge to the farmers in an informal setting.” That was when the Beekeepers Network Foundation (BeeNet) Philippines started.
With the assistance from the Department of Agriculture (DA), under the Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund, the BeeNet Philippines was organized. In 1994, Loyola started heading the Mindanao cluster of the BeeNet Philippines where the aspiring beekeepers he trained automatically became a member of the organization.
Later, the organization was affiliated to APIMONDIA or International Federation of Beekeepers’ Associations, a global organization of scientists and beekeepers in the world. Starting with only few members back then, Loyola is currently leading the Mindanao BeeNet Philippines with over 2,000 members and counting.
“It will be a good credential for the beekeeper if he or she is a member of APIMONDIA as this will be a ticket to work abroad,” Loyola said. APIMONDIA is on the shopping list of the employers abroad looking for beekeepers.
Loyola helped Filipino beekeepers to be qualified to work in the US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Some of them are farmers and employees who left their jobs to work in a high-paying job as beekeepers abroad.
According to Loyola, employers hire workers with three to five years of experience in beekeeping. He also recommends those who display special skills and interest in the job regardless of their years of experience.
As his name became known in the agriculture sector, he was nominated by farmer associations to be their representative to coordinate with the various agencies of the government particularly the DA.
It was during one of the agency’s meetings that Loyola learned about the financial and technical assistance being extended by the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) XI to further develop small farms. After completing the requirements, the Loyola Bee Farm was accredited as an ATI Learning Site on Honeybee Production and was awarded financial assistance for the development of the farm.
“We saw that Loyola needed support to strengthen what he started,” OIC Center Director Emelia Gadingan of ATI-XI said.
In October 2015, ATI-XI turned over P100,000 for the establishment of the training hall that has long been a needed facility of his farm. The Loyola Bee Farm is now a Learning Site or model farm of ATI-XI on Honeybee Culture.
“I am very grateful to ATI-XI for the financial assistance which helped me with the business. Stakeholders from the beekeeping industry in the US and Poland and scientists have visited my farm and noticed the improvements because of the support from the government,” Loyola narrated.
From just 20 participants, his farm can now accommodate up to 60 people because of the wider and convenient training venue that would be helpful to their learning process.
“We are honored that the ATI is helping our Filipino workers get a better job that would support their families in the long run,” Gadingan said.
Currently, ATI-XI is continuously assisting the farm so that it could level up as a School Practical Agriculture and eventually an AgriTourism Site, the next phases of the ATI ladderized approach to extension services after the farm is accredited as Learning Site.
As Filipino workers continue to reap the sweeter rewards in culturing honeybee, the government assures that their assistance will never perish thus be strengthened.
Story by: Lucille L. Bocado