OPINION: Honey to the rescue in Indonesia
Partners for Resilience (PfR) member Kuswantoro, from Wetlands International-Indonesia Programme, reflects on new pathways for building resilience in Indonesia as part of a CDKN supported series of voices from the field.
The earthquake and tsunami that hit Indonesia in December 1992 changed the coastal landscape, especially the estuaries and wild honey beehives in the forest. It also changed people’s behavior and livelihoods in the affected areas. The flooding brought by the tsunami damaged public facilities and livelihood sources of many people. Climatic changes in the length of monsoons and dry seasons have negatively affected agricultural productivity, thereby lessening the community’s capacity for resilience by weakening the source of livelihoods and threatening food security.
Reacting to the change in weather patterns, communities have been forced to undertake activities that are destructive to the environment, such as slash-and-burn agriculture, illegal logging and shifting cultivation in upland areas that causes disruption to the forests.
Honey to the rescue
Traditionally, forests produce oxygen, give shade from the hot tropical sun, aesthetic appeal, prevent landslides, and are sources of non-timber products. They also increase water absorption. But degraded forests are no longer able to provide these environmental services. One important non-timber forest product that can be obtained from forests is the natural honey produced by Apis dorsata, the honey bee. Forests are home and food sources for honey bees. Natural honey in the forest is abundant wherever bees are—from mangrove forests to hills around the village. Honey is traditionally harvested twice a year, once in October– December and again in March–May. During each harvest, honey gatherers can collect around 1,500 bottles of honey with a price range of 25,000– 30,000 rupiah (US$ 2.5–3) per bottle (PRA-Darat Pantai Village).
Honey is harvested by the traditional system, so no special treatment is needed during the harvest other than fogging with coconut fiber to avoid bee stings. In the local culture, honey collectors make special marks on the tree trunk that alert others that the hives in that tree belong to a specific person and cannot be harvested by others. Such traditions are important to preserve honor.
Honey collection is not without problems. In addition to physical threats, road access is very difficult. Availability of honey is also decreasing due to weakened traditional values in society. Importantly, slash-and-burn agriculture also has a huge and negative impact on honey production. A dynamic joint effort to restore ecosystem functions, including environment rehabilitation, is therefore needed.
Economic sustainability and honey production
With PfR, community resilience was strengthened through environmental restoration and economic sustainability. Through Wetlands International together with the Darat Pantai community in Talibura sub-district a group was formed called Kembang Bakau which literally means mangrove flower. The group was established to carry out an environmental restoration
program and to provide soft loans for capital development.
Known as bio-rights, the mechanism provided soft loan facilities for group members willing to help preserve the environment. The said loans can only be used to improve livelihoods, including collecting and selling honey. Environmental restoration efforts such as mangrove planting and mixed cropping can also be used to provide places to store beehives and to feed the bees.
To open up business opportunities for wider market penetration, training in management and marketing has been conducted. Honey producers are trained in techniques of maintaining cleanliness of honey by filtering a few times before putting the commodity on the market. Producers are also shown how to avoid cutting all beehive columns to ensure sustainability.
Additionally, good packaging quality is required for better markets. To sustain honey collection, such management practices are needed. Honey collection is one example of how communities are able to develop and sustain livelihoods where ecosystem maintenance becomes a precondition to success and business sustainability. It is an option available for communities to help them economically adapt to the changes brought about by the climate.
Environment restoration and preservation are important for sustaining honey production and for continuing environmental services so that honey can be produced in a sustainable manner. According to Mustamil, leader of the Kembang Bakau Group, ‘The training conducted gave honey more value and good price. Previous honey prices were only 25,000–30,000 rupiah per bottle. Now it has increased to 30,000–40,000 per bottle. In addition, mangrove planting in coastal areas has reduced erosion from
tidal waves while providing a good home and food for honey bees.’
The experience has shown that combining environment restoration efforts with domestic economic development as a means to adapt to the evolving impacts of climate change is possible and do-able. The application of the principles described above, as well as awareness of local customs and cultural values, can lead to life-enriching changes in people’s behavior. The results have shown that what was once barren land is now starting to turn green, and honey bees are now searching for mangrove pollen.
CDKN has supported this publication under a three – year partnership with the PfR members. The aim is to inform and shape policies for scaling up climate-smart community resilience building, using evidence-based lessons learnt from PfR experiences in Indonesia and the Philippines.
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Photos courtesy of Partners for Resilience