UNESCO Social and Human Sciences
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Best Practices on Indigenous Knowledge MOST/NUFFIC (IK-Unit)


Traditional harvesting and marketing of honey and wax in the upper Kapuas Lake region, West Kalimantan, Indonesia



Apiculture, forest products, honey, income generation, natural resources, wax


Introducing the practice

Traditional activities surrounding the harvest of honey and beeswax are being improved under the Danau Sentarum Conservation Project’s (1992-1997) Conservation Products Enterprise programme. While the traditional harvesting system is being maintained, certain harvest and post-harvest practices are being adapted in order to increase yields and improve the quality of honey and beeswax derived from giant Asian honeybees, or Apis Dorsata.

The programme is taking place in various villages within Indonesia’s Danau Sentarum National Park, formerly known as the Danau Sentarum Wildlife Reserve (DSWR). This is in West Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo). The villages include Semalah, Bukit Tekenang, Semangit, and Nanga Leboyan.

The traditional systems of tikung (or honey board) and lalau (tall tree) were first described by Dutch explorers in the 1850s. These are both seasonal systems which depend on the weather and other factors that influence the arrival and swarming of the giant honeybees.

The research and subsequent improvements described here began in late 1994 and ended with the conclusion of the Danau Sentarum Wildlife Conservation Project in July 1997. This was Project 5: Conservation–Indonesia–UK Tropical Forest Management Programme (DSWR Conservation Project).

Prior to the conclusion of the DSWR project, funding was secured from the British Embassy in Jakarta for a three-year extension to the Conservation Products Enterprise programme, of which the honey and beeswax project was a part. With the help of former local staff of the DSWR, a local NGO called Yayasan Dian Tama carried on this work until July 2000 with communities in the wildlife reserve. The same local individuals are still administering and supporting these activities, although the reserve is now a national park and the NGO is a new one called Yayasan Riak Bumi (Ripples of the Earth).

The tikung or honey-board harvest system is named after the carved hardwood plank (approximately 0.8 - 2.5 m long by 25 - 40 cm wide), which is convex on one side. Properly carving and shaping a tikung is a time-consuming process, often taking a full day to complete just one board. Tikung boards are attached to tree branches in the stunted flooded forests using notches and wooden pegs. They are positioned at a 30° slope with the upper part oriented towards the sky and the concave side facing downward to facilitate rainwater runoff. The planks are made of durable tembesu wood that can last over two generations and still be used after enduring a forest fire.

Ownership of a tikung is indicated by an individual owner’s mark (tikap), usually a series of indentations at the side of the plank, recognized as the family mark. Each new generation (son) adds a new indentation (taka). This mark system is complicated, but well understood by all the tikung holders in a given area.

In one day five or six tikung planks can be placed in the submerged forest, usually two meters above the highest water level reached during the rainy season. Bee swarms arrive in tikung areas between December and February, although their arrival also depends on the timing of the preceding dry season. Prior to the arrival of the swarms, undergrowth is sometimes cleared and a small boat channel to the tikung might be dug. The last blossom from the tahun (Carallia bracteata) is the signal that honey is ready for harvest.

A five-step process took place during the DSWR Conservation Project to determine how the honey-collection system could be improved:

Research on systems of bee management and honey collection was conducted in the wildlife reserve in late 1994 (Rouquette 1995).

In early 1995, DSWR honey harvesters took part in planning activities to improve honey marketing and sales (Wickham 1995). DSWR was visited in early 1996 by technical staff representing a similar Apis dorsata honey-management system practised in Vietnam. DSWR honey harvesters paid a return visit to Vietnam in late 1996 (Wickham 1997a).

Various meetings, training workshops and field trials took place as improvements to the honey collection techniques were adopted (Wickham 1997b and YDT 2000).

Through the project, a traditional honey collection system and post-harvesting methods that have been practised for generations were described. The project also identified a number of common techniques that were harmful to the bees, produced an inferior product, or were wasteful of the resource.

Below is a table describing the adaptations that the DSWR project field staff initiated with the honey harvesters of Danau Sentarum in order to improve upon traditional practices and thus to produce larger quantities of better-quality honey and beeswax. The revised practice has the potential to generate more income for the communities, while also supporting and reinforcing principles of sustainability.

Common practice in the project

Problems with the practice

Suggested improvement


1.  Honeycombs are collected at night when bees are most docile.

·   Bees need daylight to navigate.

·   Night harvesting results in bees losing their orientation, falling in the water and dying.

·   The remaining bees scatter and do not build new combs or produce any more honey.

·   Daytime harvesting in combination with ‘selective cutting’ (see #3) allows bees to navigate and return to the comb to continue producing honey.

·   Lower bee mortality during harvest. Increased sustainability of bee colonies.

2.  Bees are driven from their combs by smoke from torches with exposed, smouldering embers.

·   Many bees are burned and die.

·   Forest fire is a potential hazard.

·   Hand-held ‘smokers’ can be used to ward off bees without exposing them directly to burning embers.

·   Lower bee mortality.

·   Reduced risk of forest fire.

3.  Honeycombs are harvested only once per season.

·   Potential harvest is not achieved.

·   Full financial value of wax and honey is lost.

·   Selected cutting of only the honey portion of the comb (leaving the brood intact) would permit 2-3 harvests per season.

·   Larger honey harvest.

·   More income for the community.

·   Greater incentive to protect the forest.

4.  During the honey harvest the complete comb is removed.

·   Bees do not re-settle.

·   Other potential honey harvests are lost.

·   Only the honey part of the comb is removed.

·   The brood can be removed to prevent swarming.

·   Allows bees to continue to build their nest on the same site.

·   Several harvests of honeycombs during one season.

·   Additional benefits as above.

5.  Honeycombs are harvested without protective gear.

·   Harvesting is done quickly, which increases the damage to the combs.

·   More bees are likely to die.

·   Protective gear could be used: for example simple head-nets and/or gloves.

·   More time and care can be taken during the harvest.

·   Reduced damage to comb and bees.

·   May ensure that fewer hives remain unharvested.

6.  Honey is generally extracted from the combs by squeezing entire combs by hand.

·   Pollen is mixed with the honey, making it cloudy and less attractive for the market.

·   The practice is unhygienic.

·   Combs are cut into small pieces, placed on a clean cloth and allowed to drain overnight.

·   Better quality honey.

·   More income for the community.

·   Greater incentive to protect the forest.

7.  Beeswax is often contaminated, discarded, or incompletely harvested.

·   Potential harvest is not achieved.

·   Additional financial value to the collector is lost.

·   A system of melting the wax in boiling water, straining it through a cloth, and processing it with a stick-wax press can yield up to 47% more wax.

·   Better-quality wax, and more of it.

·   More income for communities.

·   Greater incentive to protect the forest.

Table 2. Techniques for improved tikung beekeeping and better honey and beeswax yields  

Stakeholders and beneficiaries

This project was one of a number of ‘conservation enterprise’ projects which DSWR project staff (including local staff) initiated together with some 30-40 honey harvesters living on the wildlife reserve.

It also involved taking three tikung honey harvesters to southern Vietnam, where they visited honey collectors who use a similar system and had adopted similar improvements. These individuals became local ‘champions’ because of the improvements made to the tikung system.

Local people become involved because they see the economic benefits of adopting improved harvest techniques, especially if these techniques prove to increase the overall yields and market value of these products.

As honey and wax generated more income, appreciation for the need to protect local forests from both fire and over-harvesting grew.

Men are the main collectors of honey and wax, but women and teenagers also take part in the post-harvest processing of honey and wax. How the financial benefits are shared among these beneficiaries has not been tracked, but could be the subject of further research.

Based on research undertaken within the DSWR project, approximately 25% of the people living in the reserve (up to 250 families) are engaged in the tikung honey collection system. This would be approximately 1500 to 2000 people in total.


The role of indigenous knowledge

The project worked with the indigenous knowledge and belief systems that were present in the community and that the people were familiar with. It did not try to introduce an entirely new activity, or worse, to introduce another bee species or import a foreign bee-keeping system with expensive materials and technologies. Instead the project was grounded in the belief that the unique and traditional honey-board tikung system is a valuable asset (in particular for marketing purposes). A training programme was built around the existing indigenous knowledge system and how it could be improved using simple and inexpensive, locally available materials.

Some of the suggested changes (outlined in table 2) were met with scepticism, but rather than insisting that these be adopted without question, project staff took local honey collectors on a fieldtrip to southern Vietnam to see how their Vietnamese counterparts had introduced these changes in similar surroundings. Following this exchange, these collectors became the greatest advocates of the changes.


Achievements and results

The improved quality of honey and wax has increased their value by a factor of 5 in the case of honey, and a factor of 10 in the case of beeswax. Improved harvest and post-harvest practices have increased yields of honey by up to 75% and of beeswax by 50%.

The local population is more aware of the value of their non-timber forest products, and of the need to protect them from unsustainable use and forest fires. Improved honey harvesting techniques which employ hand-held ‘smokers’ are also reducing bee mortality.

While it is more difficult to measure, another result of the project is the sense of pride that has developed among the people who took part it. Their products are now bottled, labelled and marketed to retailers in Pontianak, Jakarta, Singapore and the UK. They are even available via the Internet (see: www.tropicalforest.com). The people are proud not only of the products, but also of the knowledge they possess to make these products.

It is important to note that the NGO that has emerged from this project was created by, and is comprised entirely of, local people—those with the greatest stake in ensuring the success of the enterprise.

Strengths and weaknesses of the practice

The project worked with and built upon local indigenous knowledge and local resources. It did not try to replace them or expect people to invest in something costly or new. The Best Practice is a hybrid of the best of the original indigenous practices combined with proven improvements.

Any time the people did not understand or believe in the suggested improvements, the revised practices were demonstrated to them by local people who had visited other communities and had seen the benefits for themselves. It was a ‘farmer-to-farmer’ approach.

But the economic benefits of bigger and better yields of honey and wax can be realized only if local NGOs continue to provide transportation and marketing support.

Why this is a Best Practice:

·           It makes use of an existing practice (i.e. honey harvesting).

·           It employs traditional skills, techniques and available resources (i.e. honey boards placed in trees, and local bee species).

·           Local people are hired and trained to act as ‘champions’ on behalf of the project.

·           Suggestions are made as to how indigenous practices could be changed to improve the quality and the quantity of the harvest.

·           Local people were taken to demonstration sites to see similar activities being undertaken by honey harvesters elsewhere.

·           With help, the product was marketed regionally and internationally.

·           Producers earned maximum profits.

During the two-year period from 1995 to 1997, ten villages collected over 3200 kg of honey, which was marketed to retailers in Pontianak, Jakarta, Riau, Singapore and the UK. Honey brought in ten times more income than it did before 1995.


Source of inspiration

The adaptations of the traditional harvesting system described here are often done insimilar situations elsewhere. But to our knowledge, certainly within the West Kalimantan region, this is a rare undertaking. This example has the potential to demonstrate to local, regional, provincial and national government officials, NGO staff and academics the broad range of possibilities which exist for supporting and improving upon indigenous practices in Indonesia.

This particular practice would be difficult to replicate in other communities, however, as it relies upon a number of climatic, biological and ecological factors. But technical replication is not the only thing that matters. Of perhaps even greater importance are the attitude and behaviour of project staff that work with local people. They need to be willing to respect and work with indigenous knowledge and to add extra value to it through the addition of other types of knowledge. This is particularly challenging, not only for expatriate staff (who often continue to discount the value of indigenous knowledge) but also for local staff and/or the rural people themselves, whose formal, western-oriented education has often denigrated their own local knowledge and practices.

The arrival of the bees and thus the season for harvesting honey is strongly influenced by two factors: the level of water in the lakes, which influences when the trees flower, and–in recent years–the forest fires that have plagued Borneo.

Very much depends on the accessibility of sites where A. dorsata can build their combs. In this respect the situations in the lake region of Danau Sentarum and in U Minh in Vietnam are unique. If accessible trees are not available, the bees will nest in tall trees.

Areas where these practices could be replicated include the marshy coastal region of the Sundarbas in India and Bangladesh and the Irriwaddy plains in Burma.

If you think that this case could be useful in a different context than the one described here, please get in touch first with the contact person listed below (Administrative data). Intellectual property rights could be an issue.


Additional remarks and information

A great deal of the knowledge required for this project came from the experiences of Mr Vincent Mulder (see address and contact numbers below), who worked with a similar honey-harvesting system in the U Minh Forest, in Minh Hai Province, Vietnam. He visited DSWR in January 1996 and sponsored a return visit to Vietnam in October of that same year.



Recent articles that have been published which describe this project in more detail include:

·           Vincent Mulder, Valentinus Heri and Trevor Wickham (2000) ‘Traditional Honey and Wax Collection with Apis Dorsata in the Upper Kapuas Lake Region, West Kalimantan’. In: ‘Borneo Research Bulletin’, Special Issue on Danau Sentarum National Park.

·           Vincent Mulder, Valentinus Heri and Trevor Wickham (2001) ‘Traditional Honey and Wax Collection from Apis Dorsata in West Kalimantan’. In: ‘Beekeeping and Development’, Number 59, 4-7.

·           Vincent Mulder, Valentinus Heri and Trevor Wickham (forthcoming) ‘Honey and Beeswax Marketing: Techniques to Improve Traditional Tikung Beekeeping from Apis Dorsata in West Kalimantan’. In: ‘Beekeeping and Development’, Number 60.

Other project reports are also available. Please contact Trevor Wickham directly.

Readers are invited to send us any additional information about your project, work or organization which you think might be useful.


Administrative data

Organization involved

Committee Science and Technology for Vietnam (Mr Vincent Mulder)

P.O. Box 43

6700 AA Wageningen

The Netherlands

Fax: +31 317 4250670

E-mail: Vincent.Mulder@tomaatnet.nl

Contact persons

Trevor Wickham or Valentinus Heri (see below)

P.O. Box 158, Tofino, British Columbia V0R 2Z0, Canada

Tel.: +1 250 7254413

Fax: +1 250 7254413 (call first)

E-mail: trev@island.net


Other partner(s) involved in this practice

The following two non-governmental organizations have provided technical and administrative support, have facilitated activities, and have helped with marketing.

·           Yayasan Riak Bumi (Ripples of the Earth)
Contact person
Valentinus Heri
Jalan Budi Utomo, Komplek Pondok Pangeran II
Blok J 8, Kelurahan Siantan Hulu
Pontianak Utara, West Kalimantan 78120, Indonesia
Tel.: +62 561 885154
E-mail: riakbumi@pontianak.wasantara.net.id or heri_valentinus@hotmail.com


·           Yayasan Dian Tama
Jalan Suhada No. 8
Pontianak, West Kalimantan 78121, Indonesia



Because this project was one of a number of initiatives undertaken by the DSWR Conservation Project over a five-year period (1992-1997), it is difficult to estimate the total amount that was allocated exclusively to this one project. From 1997 to 2000, the project also received support from the British Partnership Scheme (ODA) administered by the British Embassy in Jakarta. A very rough estimate of the funds allocated to this project over the eight years would be USD 150,000 to USD 175,000.


Person(s) who have described this Best Practice

Trevor Wickham

Eco-Planning and Associates, Canada

Tel.: +1 250 7252346

Fax: +1 250 7252346

E-mail: trev@island.net


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