Kelulut Stingless Bee Farming In Malaysia and Its Honey Production
For most of us consuming honey is something we welcome with open arms, but approaching beehives to grow it? Not enough.
While the bee alone spades as a last resort for self-defense, not everyone would have the confidence to enter honey bee colonies even with this knowledge. You might be happy to know that in Malaysia we can keep stingless bees.
Locally, they are known as the kelulut bees, and it is actually an industry that harvest 33.6 million RM in the country as of 2020, but has the potential to reach 3.03 billion RM in annual sales if developed. Therefore, we interviewed 2 kelulut farms in West Malaysia (Bayu Kelulut, Kedah) and East Malaysia (HR beekeeping farms, Sarawak) to learn more about the current industry.
A wealth of local fauna
“Kelulut bees have origins in Malaysia and have been around here for thousands of years, but were only marketed in 2015,” Amira from Bayu Kelulut told Vulcan Post.
“In 2014, there was a big buzz about the scientific findings on kelulut honey. If honey has been consumed regularly, it can be of great health benefit, ”she explained.
While honey bees are available all over the world, kelulut bees can only be found in countries with tropical and subtropical climates, with Southeast Asia being one of them, shared Joe from RH. Bee Farms.
To the untrained eye, kelulut bees may share a resemblance to a house fly due to the lack of a striped body and its smaller size (3 mm to 10 mm) compared to honey bees (12 mm to 25 mm), according to Joe.
On the taste side, the honey they produce is also different. Honey collected from kelulut bees has a tangy, sweet, and bittersweet taste paired with an earthy scent.
it does not sting but it bites
Now every living thing will have some sort of tusk, and the Kelulut Bee is no different. When threatened, they bite you, but that won’t cause a bump or itch, according to Amira.
Although bees prefer to build their hives on the branches and walls of trees, kelulut bees much prefer hollow trunks, underground cavities, and wall cavities.
One advantage they have over honey bees is that they are more resistant to disease and pests. They are harmless to native species and are also excellent pollinators, according to Joe.
“Kelulut bees are more informative than honey bees. According to this research, the kelulut bees will also be [explore] but do not fully exploit current floral resources. Bees, on the other hand, will exploit floral resources until they are empty and [do] exploring new floral resources, ”explained Amira.
Indeed, kelulut bees only forage up to 800 m, while honey bees forage up to 3 km, Joe added.
A lucrative but expensive bee
The size of a Kelulut bee’s body compared to that of a bee isn’t the only thing that’s smaller, in fact. They can form a colony of up to 10,000, which is equivalent to the smallest honey bee colony size.
As a result, their yield is relatively lower than that of bees. And due to its weakness, the operating costs are also higher than those of honey bee farming, resulting in a higher retail price.
While it is a blessing that kelulut bees can thrive in a tropical climate like ours, one downside is that during the rainy seasons they are unable to collect nectar due to their smaller physique and foraging distance, resulting in even lower production. .
However, Joe explained that the reason they would always pursue this move is because they find the current bee market too competitive. Kelluut bee honey, on the other hand, appears to be a more premium product besides having a more unique taste.
Amira intervened, sharing that their motivation was also in its medicinal value, as kelulut bee honey is richer in antioxidants than the honey of their counterparts.
Currently, RH Bee Farms has less than 20 beekeepers with over 7,000 beehives, while Bayu Kelulut has 4,000. Both farms are supported by TUESDAY and MATRADE in R&D and overseas market penetration respectively.
At present, these two farms export to Asian countries like China, Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan and Singapore.
Without sting but tolerates Better predators
Honey is not the only thing that attracts intruders to these beekeeping farms, as the kelulut bees themselves fall prey to frogs, lizards, spiders, etc. Therefore, beekeepers will need to take extra precautions to ensure the safety of bee hives from these insects and spider webs.
“To ward off intruders like honey-loving monkeys and bears, we installed an electric fence system in 2020 on our farms,” explained Joe. However, kelulut bees are generally more tolerant of pests and diseases.
Commercially, Amira explained that she was initially challenged by the fact that the kelulut honey did not meet the standards of the International Honey Commission (IHC) / CODEX) and the Malaysian Food Act 1983 because the standards they have are measured on the basis of normal traditional honey.
“Therefore, Bayu Kelulut and Gabungan Persatuan Usahawan Kelulut Malaysia (GPUKM) lobbied for the establishment of new rules and parameters by the government for kelulut honey. In 2017, the Malaysian Standard Kelulut Honey (MS2683: 2017) was created with the help of SIRIM, MARDI and the Department of Standard Malaysia to overcome this problem, ”she told Vulcan Post.
With all of the information Amira and Joe shared about the kelulut bees and the industry, here is a chart Joe shared that sums up some of the biggest differences between bees and our kelulut bees.
|Stingless bees||Stinging bees|
|Common name||– Kelulut
– Italian bee
|Distribution||Tropical and subtropical countries||Worldwide|
|Hive||– Hollow trunk
– Underground cavities
– Wall cavities
|– Tree branch
|Size of the colony||1,000 – 10,000||10,000 – 60,000|
|Lifetime||About. 60 days (drone / worker) and 3 years (queen)||About. 120 days (drone / worker) and 5 years (queen)|
|Foraging distance||Up to 800m||Up to 3 km|
|Anatomy of the beehive||Built horizontally||Built vertically|
|Honey production||300g to 1kg / month per colony||Up to 5kg / month per colony|
|Defense||– Greaves with propolis
– From time to time bites
|Product||Honey, propolis, pollen||Honey, pollen, honeycomb, royal jelly|
|Advantage||High tolerance to pests and diseases||– High efficiency of honey production
– Longer life expectancy
|Inconvenience||– Low yield of honey production
– Shorter lifespan
|Vulnerable to diseases|
- You can read more about RH Bee Farms here and Bayu Kelulut here.
- You can read more about the other startups we’ve covered here.
Featured Image Credit: RH Bee Farms