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Decline of Cambodia's Honeybees Raises Concerns

FILE - Bees are "losing ground," one specialist warns.
FILE - Bees are "losing ground," one specialist warns.

Honeybees have a huge role in the ecosystems of tropical climates, but illegal logging and unsustainable honey harvesting are hurting their population. Honeybees have co-evolved with flowering plants, and their overall health is an indicator of an ecosystem's well-being.

Damian Magista, a specialist on honeybees and the founder of Bee Local, who recently returned from a trip to Cambodia, told VOA Khmer that he is concerned about a decline in the honeybee population.

Bees are "losing ground," with the decline of ecological diversity and the continuation of traditional honey hunting practices, which can wipe out entire colonies, he said.

Magista, whose company is based in Portland, Oregon, spent about two weeks in Siem Reap and Banteay Meanchey provinces trying to learn more about Cambodian honeybees.

Cambodia has two species, Apis dorsata and Apis florea, which are found mostly in Southeast Asia. The dorsata species, or giant honeybee, can produce a honeycomb up to three meters long.

"We don't see them here in the U.S., obviously," Magista said. "You don't find them in a lot of places. If we lose them, we'll be losing out on a lot."

Bees’ benefits, honey’s demand

The bees themselves are also beneficial, he explained, because their combs and honey are rich sources of food, and their wax is used in pagodas and places without electricity.

But a reduction in bees means a dwindling of a culture of beekeeping and bee products, he added. "Because the bees are dying out, that culture is slowly dying, as well."

Despite the decline, Magista said there's still a market for Cambodian honey, but it will require five- to 10-year programs in order to "have a group of folks teach them beekeeping techniques and provide the support and infrastructure."

Cambodian honey could be sold for as much as $10 per kilogram, more than similar honey from Thailand or Vietnam, according to a USAID assessment.

Some non-governmental organizations are dedicated exclusively to helping with beekeeping, such as the Angkor Center for the Conservation of Biodiversity in Siem Reap, and private-sector promotion projects in Pursat province. A New Zealand-supported project in 2013 exported its first 500 liters of honey to Japan.