Honey bees, which were introduced to Papua New Guinea after World War 11, are now living in the bush in many areas of the country.
The fact that bees have survived and propagated suggests that there is huge potential for beekeeping.
Bees make honey from the nectar they collect from flowers.
This is their energy food.
Bees also collect pollen which they use for their protein food, and it seems to be abundant in PNG.
By the use of pollen traps on the hives’ entrances, pollen can also be collected which is surplus to the requirements of the colony.
This can be sold overseas where it is in demand as a health food.
The possibility of using it locally as a protein supplement has also been considered.
While the bees are collecting pollen, they do a valuable service that is not often recognised.
That is the cross-pollination or fertilisation of self-sterile flowers.
For the villager, beekeeping offers the opportunity to produce either a cash crop or a food crop without a demand on the land, and with the additional benefit of cross-pollination in nearby gardens.
In late 1976, the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs was invited to help the Department of Primary Industry with a beekeeping project under a bilateral aid scheme.
Preparations were made to expand the trial hives to 500.
Then began the process of assembling the extra equipment required, splitting existing hives into small nuclei, and introducing good quality young queen bees.
As the new colonies expanded, production monitoring was started.
The initial period of production was disappointing. This was apparently the result of unusual climactic factors which affected the flowering cycles of many plants that the bees would normally have visited.
In 1978, a good production was recorded, which proved that honey production was definitely a viable proposition.
The large honey surplus collected from some wild colonies and subsequent beekeeping trials in the Highlands confirmed that honey production should be thoroughly investigated.
However, the last 30 years have been quite for PNG’s honey industry, and it has only been in 2006 that it has started attracting a lot of interest.
This has been exemplified by the visit of the-Trade and Industry Minister Paul Tiensten to various beekeeping and honey-processing projects in Goroka recently, which coincided with the Melanesian Spearhead Group meeting.
Mr Tiensten’s visit was a vote of confidence in this fledgling industry which has the potential to bring in a lot of foreign exchange into the country.
Isten Hailens Bikipas Asosiesen – Tok Pisin for Eastern Highlands Beekeepers’ Association – has been operating since the early 1980s.
Currently, the IHBA has almost 320 registered members, who have been selected based on their experience and expertise in the industry.
Funding will be sought to reactivate and reestablish the honey industry, and from this base of farmers, other farmers and newcomers can develop.
“IHBA honey is regarded as a very high quality, organic honey and when the association was established, the first task was to establish a stable supply chain with farmers in the region,” says board secretary Steven Rere.
“IHBA’s first step was to bid for a higher price – K5 per kilogram – and to work with farmers to restore their disused hives.
“This proved to be a slow process, but confidence has returned to the farmers and they are keen to sell as much honey as possible at K5 per kilo.
“The farmers sell to a number of honey processors in Goroka, mainly Niugini Fruit Company and PNG Organic Farm Products at K5 per kilogram.”
Mr Rere adds the project will focus on the PNG market.
The PNG domestic market for honey is relatively large by Pacific Island standards, with total sales of around 60 tonnes per year,” he says.
The consumers in Papua New Guinea are relatively price-sensitive and the high price of imported honey is around K14 per 500 gram jar.
All marketing is left to the honey buyers or processors and the IHBA has nothing to do with processing and marketing at this stage.”
ey competitors will actually be overseas suppliers, mainly from Australia.
he leading brands and their retail prices are Capilano (500g at K14.70 and 375g at K9.70) and Black & Gold (750g at K16.90)
The competitors suffer from high freight costs to PNG and high import duty on their honey,” Mr Rere explains.
Accordingly, their retail prices are twice those of IHBA honey and, with the right marketing strategy, it will not be difficult to capture a high proportion of their market share.
The PNG customers for honey will be the various retailers, boarding schools, universities, colleges, hospitals, prisons, bakeries, hotels, restaurants and the limited number of commercial users.
The retailers in PNG are similar to those in other countries – they require reliable supplies of consistently good quality products at competitive prices.
It is the cheapest honey on the shelves.
IHBA will sell raw honey to the processors in Goroka.”
HBA already enjoys a number of competitive advantages including:
Strong linkages with the honey producers;
Consistent supply of good quality honey through an effective extension service;
Relatively cheap prices for the honey sourced from farmers;
An ideal climate for honey production in the Highlands region;
A genuine organic source of nectar;
Road and airfreight access to the key regional markets in PNG;
Relatively low labour costs of around K30 per week;
Established customer base in Goroka; and
Strong practical experience in bee framing and honey production.
With the right kind of support, PNG’s honey industry can be a sweet success story.