Community-based approach to sustainable stingless beekeeping in Sorsogon, Philippines.
Stingless beekeeping technology as an alternative livelihood in the Bicol region involves hunters, beekeepers, and assemblers of bee products. However, development and adoption of the technology could lead to overexploitation of feral colonies by hunters, imperiling the population of this endemic species. This project mainly aimed to help communities in Sorsogon province to adopt beekeeping as a livelihood through sustainable utilization, management, and development approach for the conservation of the species. The specific objectives were to (1) document ethnological/meliponicultural practices of Sorsogon, (2) determine the diversity and abundance of the stingless bee population in two municipalities in Sorsogon, (3) facilitate knowledge transfer of stingless beekeeping technology, (4) facilitate meliponary establishment at the community level, and (5) develop a policy on conserving wild populations of stingless bees. The project was carried out in the municipalities of Casiguran and Bulusan in Sorsogon from February 2013 to January 2016. A survey of the ethnomeliponicultural practices of 29 community members (25 bee hunters and 4 beekeepers) in Casiguran and Bulusan showed a slight difference in bee hunting and keeping practices. Most respondents were hunters and were untrained in beekeeping. They learned hunting skills from their parents and grandparents. The respondents differed in their time of the hunt, species of bees hunted (Apis dorsata and Apis cerana), and bee products collected. Only a few of them hunted stingless bees. Regarding bee products, they were mostly familiar with honey, but only a few of them were aware that pollen is also an important bee product. Most of them just fed the pollen to their animals. Lowquality honey was sold in the market. The hunters encountered the following common problems and risks: stings of bees and ants, bites of snakes, and attacks by wild pigs; injury due to trees with spines and falling debris from tall trees; bad weather conditions; lack of paraphernalia for use in climbing tall trees heavily surrounded by parasitic plants/vines; lack of skills in hunting and collecting honey from the wild (resulting in damage to the colony); lack of knowledge and technology on how to transfer hunted colonies; and encountering hostile community members or outsiders in the hunting area. The distribution and abundance of stingless bee were determined with participation of the hunters; this was conducted in one barangay per municipality. Nest trees were coconut, santol, mango, cacao, pili, guava, and narra. Hive structures of extracted colonies were spherical, hive entrances varied in shape and size, and pollen and honey pots were found within the periphery of the brood. Maps on the distribution of stingless bees in the two municipalities were generated. Colonies in the sampling sites were not abundant. Marked nest trees were visited after three months and onwards to monitor the regrowth of reproductive propagules in the area. Regrowth occurred from 9 to 18 months after nest extraction. The species of stingless bees was identified as Tetragonula biroi based on morphological characteristics and through gene sequencing. Capacity enhancement of the beneficiaries via training in stingless beekeeping focused on value of stewardship, beekeeping benefits and potentials, biology and behavior of bees, and stingless bee culture. After the training, community meliponaries were established in the two municipalities. Initial stocks of bee colonies were provided and monitored monthly. Biotic and abiotic factors greatly influenced the outcomes of the project. The proposed policy for the conservation of stingless bees includes education of the general public on stingless bees, generation of public interest in stingless bees, establishment of a suitable environment for bee survival, creation of beekeepers' organizations/societies, and implementation of similar or supporting conservation policies.