Asia - Pacific

Hunger for coveted honey posing threat to Bangladesh's Sundarbans

On World Honey Bee Day, experts emphasize importance of traditional honey gathering methods, training collectors

SM Najmus Sakib  | 23.08.2021 - Update : 23.08.2021
Hunger for coveted honey posing threat to Bangladesh's Sundarbans

DHAKA, Bangladesh

Irresponsible and commercial gathering of honey is posing a threat with irrevocable consequences to the ecology of the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest, experts and traditional honey collectors fear.

On World Honey Bee Day, marked this year on Aug. 21, experts said the Sundarbans save millions of lives, underlining the importance of preserving the mangrove forests, located in a delta formed by the confluence of three rivers in the Bay of Bengal, and their inhabitants.

The Sundarbans is an expansive area covering more than 10,000 square kilometers (over 3,860 square miles), 60% of which lies in Bangladesh.

During the collection of honey, workers face the biggest danger from tigers, venomous snakes and crocodiles, according to traditional honey collectors.

A number of people are killed during the hunt for beehives and the process of gathering honey from giant Asian honeybees, which are among the biggest and most aggressive honeybees in the world.

Honey collection on the rise

The Forest Department allows honey collection in the Sundarbans, a UNESCO World Heritage site, for three months every year, from April to June.

This year, permits were issued to 6,797 people, up from 5,455 in 2020.

Collectors gathered 3,419 quintals (753,760 pounds) of honey this year, an increase from 3,227 quintals (711,431 pounds) last year, department officials told Anadolu Agency.

“For generations, poor fishermen and villagers living around the Sundarbans have been collecting honey,” said Saiful Islam, a 40-year-old farmer and community leader in the Shyamnagar administrative region of Satkhira district along the Sundarbans.

Soaring joblessness in the region has pushed many newcomers to honey collection, who are unaware of how to properly gather honey and are killing honeybees and their larvae, he said.

“This is not only endangering the plants’ pollination process by killing honeybees, but also making the honey unhealthy for humans, as they squeeze natural beehives instead of properly extracting the honey,” said Islam.

- Threat of commercial farming

There are two main types of honeybees; wild honeybees and domestic honeybees that are used in honey farms, Pavel Partha, a botanist who has been observing the Sundarbans for over 15 years, told Anadolu Agency.

“The wild honeybees work for pollination more than the domestic ones. They are migratory insects, and during the winter season, they travel across the country, pollinate plants, and return to the mangrove forest,” he said.

“Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that a safe and diversified forest environment is ensured for wild honeybees.”

During a recent study, Partha, an ecology and biodiversity conservation researcher, noticed increasing irregularities in the size of hives of wild honeybees in the Sundarbans.

He also found “abnormality in the honeybees’ food cycle in the Sundarbans.”

Some beekeepers in the Satkhira region, along the Sundarbans canals and embankments, install artificial honeybee boxes and other devices to bypass the need for an entry pass and “snatch” honey from the forest, he added.

“These acts are posing a serious threat to the forest ecology, increasing conflict between wild and domestic honeybees and distorting the food chain for honeybees. It also disrupts the pollination process,” Partha said.

“The honeybee is the biggest pollinator in the Sundarbans, so endangering this small insect can impact the forest and the lives of all the people who depend on the Sundarbans.”

‘Need for more research’

Abu Naser Mohsin Hossain, an officer of the Forest Department, said authorities have been regularly monitoring and conducting drives against unauthorized honey collection.

People who are given permits to collect honey in the Sundarbans are also taught how to go about it, he added.

“We have already increased the reserved area in the forest to 52%. Honey from the Sundarbans is one of the most popular around the world, so we know the importance of protecting the forest and these bees,” he told Anadolu Agency.

He acknowledged that there has been a rise in commercial bee farming along the Sundarbans, but said they are still “unsure of its impact on wild honeybees.”

Hossain said there was need for more research on the matter and vowed that the government would support “anyone who comes forward for the purpose.”​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

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