Eco-engineering through advanced bee-hives
Beehives produce not only honey but also beeswax and royal jelly mostly used in the beauty and medical industries, and bees function as eco-system engineers through pollination. Therefore, bee-keeper communities are examples for human habitats with life-styles striking a healthy symbiosis with the natural environment. Local communities in all four DAC countries explained several variations in the way bee-keeping is traditionally done. Failure to sustain this industry can encourage migration of the youth to cities causing depletion of the rainforest communities. This naturally opens space for destructive agricultural practices by large corporations already seen in Indonesia and Brazil. In Indonesia, bee-keepers already practice honey-bee shepherding looking for new habitats for bee-keeping due to loss of forest to oil-palm plantations. Given several other challenges like death of bees due to pesticides, this industry can be benefit from certain technology innovations to enable relocation further in the fringes of the rainforest not only to have pure organic wild bee honey, but also to eco-engineer the rainforest fringe through elevated pollination.
Location specific honey
We found that the taste of honey depends on the geographical region of the forest. This provides authenticity and a branding opportunity for local honey that cannot be duplicated elsewhere by farm honey. Bees are ecosystem engineers due to the pollination effect, providing a control channel to re-grow the forest. In Sri Lanka, there is a special opportunity to use bees as a deterrent for wild elephants to cross the fringe of the forest to attack border villages.
Through human centered design research we have identified the following challenges in relation to the current honey production:
The quality of wild-honey in most cases cannot meet international standard because of low hygiene and improper handling during the post-harvest processing.
Local communities who harvest wild bee honey in Indonesia use beehives suspended well above the ground to avoid natural threats from wild animals. Many such beehives in a forest will make it a laborious task to harvest using traditional manual methods. In the case of natural wild bee-hives, wild honey bees build their nests in a number of tree species that can reach up to 60-70 m and the beehives are built to hang on the branches. It is very difficult to reach them. During wild honey hunting, people smoke the hive by burning materials/palm leaves tied in a tube-like bamboo stick. When the bees depart, a member of the group climbs the tree to the hive. Traditionally, the hive is wholly harvested. This harvesting practice makes the hives take longer time to recover.
The lifetime of a bee depends on their flight time. Therefore, a bee colony will not survive in any part of the forest. Proximity to flowers rich in nectar is a key factor to sustain a bee colony.
Scout bees fly out only when it is dry. A rainforest will pose a challenge because rainfall is frequent and intermittent.
Bee-honey collection is a laborious process that should be done with care. Having bee hives in the forest can add to this logistic challenge.
we can explore the opportunity to empower a bee colony using sustainable innovations to improve quality, quantity, and easiness of honey harvesting and improvement of eco-system health in following ways:
Value chain innovation
Develop new value chains by innovating hygienic post-harvest honey processing methods and processes to use beewax and jelly for cosmetics and medical applications to increase the potential to enter high value international markets (Loughborough Centre for Food Innovation, Sussex Business School, LIPI, Sarvodaya, National University of Loja, INPA, Redpill Group)
Satellite & drone data
Use satellite and drone data of tall trees and wildflowers to optimally station bee-cages in the rainforest and to educate people to plant trees that offer good quality nectar (Sattelite Applications Catapult, Imgeospatial, Imperial, University of Moratuwa, LIPI),
Develop improved bee-cages that contain a mechanism to allow the farmer to manoeuvre a lever to extract honey out of a tap without having to climb up trees (Imperial, LIPI, University of Moratuwa, National University of Loja).
Develop robotic scout drones that can survey for nectar carrying flowers to inform a robotic bee in the bee-colony to perform the information conveying vector dance to save time of scout bees to locate best nectar resources within the rainforest and to allow hunting bees to fetch nectar from the most effective sources (Imperial, LIPI, University of Moratuwa).