During the establishment of our trial tree plantations in the Markham Valley, we regularly encountered native bees. Of particular interest is a small black stingless bee, often referred to as ‘sugarbag’ bee. They are quite small (only 4mm) compared to the well-known honeybee and usually live in hollow trees.
Sugarbag bees are entirely harmless as they do not have a sting, do not produce any venom, and are incapable of causing any serious allergies in humans. While there are hundreds of species of native bees, these stingless sugarbag bees are the only ones that make and store small quantities of honey. Indigenous Australians have been harvesting sugarbag bee honey from native Australian bees for thousands of years and it is a popular form of bush tucker.
European honeybees can produce 40 to 50 litres of honey from one hive a year, but the sugarbag bees produce about 1 litre. However, sugarbag bee honey is recognised for its medicinal qualities and considered similar and in some cases much better than what we recognise in Manuka honey. Sugarbag bee honey is high in antioxidants and has strong anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory qualities. As a result, there is a growing global demand for sugarbag bee honey, and because not much of it is produced, it attracts high prices.
Considering the ubiquitous presence of sugarbag bees in the Markham Valley, in combination with their harmless character and valuable honey, PNG Biomass is designing and trialling a community sugarbag bee honey programme called “Switpela Bi Hani” (Sugarbag Bee Honey).
This trial of the Switpela Bi Hani programme is aimed at exploring the benefits of sugarbag honey production in project area communities. We will work with communities to build specifically designed beehives, provide information and training from international experts on keeping bees and honey production, support honey production and sales, and monitor the hives and community benefit streams. The trial programme will be conducted in 2018 with the first results expected in early 2019.
We anticipate the following community benefits:
PNG Biomass will also benefit from the bee programme, as the flowers of our plantation’s Eucalypt trees are a good source of pollen and nectar for the bees. This will lead to improved pollination in our seed orchards which will improve the genetics and productivity of our plantations.
The first trial hive was installed in October 2017 and a second one in January 2018. PNG Biomass is currently producing more hives to install over the next few months.