KUALA NERUS: They are just three to five millimetres in size each but the tiny kelulut (stingless bees) or meliponines hold huge potential of making Malaysia a major player in the global honey market.
The bees are much more docile than the ordinary honey bee and can be easily bred on a large scale, said Universiti Malaysia Terengganu (UMT) scientist Assoc Prof Dr Wan Iryani Wan Ismail.
The lecturer with the Faculty of Science and Marine Environment said the pain, if any, from the sting is negligible and had no side effect.
Anyone – even women and children – can get involved in stingless bee farming.
It is estimated that there are between 750 and 1,000 people nationwide engaged in this kind of bee farming, and Prof Wan Iryani is optimistic the kelulut honey business can grow into a huge industry over the next 10 years.
She headed the committee that drew up the National Kelulut Honey Industry Development Plan 2020-2030 that aims to make the kelulut honey industry a new source of stable and sustainable income.
Prof Wan Iryani said the stingless bees bred in Malaysia were from the local species and as such, farmers did not have to import bees and could reduce their overall costs.
“Many of our honey bee breeders obtain their resources from abroad, from countries such as Taiwan and Australia. This has its inherent issues. When we import the bees, we also import the problems as well such as the diseases, ” she added.
Prof Wan Iryani cited an example, saying that in 1980, diseased bees imported from Taiwan wiped out all the honey bees that were bred in Malaysia.
On the honey produced by the stingless bees, she said it had a higher level of antioxidants than the honey bee product and was said to be able to delay the ageing process.
She also said that stingless bee honey had an active ingredient that was not present in ordinary bee honey “but we are still in the process of identifying that ingredient and its effects”.
Prof Wan Iryani also spoke of the challenges that had to be overcome in the quest to grow the stingless bee honey as a major commodity of the country over the next several years.
“The first of our challenges is that the international market has yet to accord stingless bee honey the recognition given to ordinary honey because some of its features do not meet the standards set by that market.
“One reason is that stingless bee honey is a little sour and the texture is more of a liquid nature while honey in accordance with the international standards must be sweet and sticky, ” she explained.
Prof Wan Iryani suggested the government intensified efforts to promote the special and unique qualities of stingless bee honey in the international market.
“It is not an easy process. It requires the pooling of the resources of several entities such as the International Trade and Industry Ministry, Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation (Matrade) and Health Ministry.
“Such a proactive action will surely bring major benefits and a new source of wealth to the stingless bee honey industry players in Malaysia, ” she added.
Prof Wan Iryani said it would be necessary also to set up a national council to come up with more systematic standard operating procedures (SOPs) to monitor all relevant matters.
“While the setting up of such a council will take time, it is proposed that a special policymaking committee and a technical committee be established in the short term, ” she added. — Bernama