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Let's give a toast for tropical honey

Greetings from Asia! My name is Cleo Cervancia, a Professor from the University of the Philippines Los Banos and currently the President of Apimondia Regional Commission for Asia. In 2014, our topic was on stingless bees and how to produce and collect honey, pollen and propolis from stingless bees. Now, we are inviting you once again to join the discussion on tropical honey, especially the honey produced in Asia.  Our aim is to establish honey standard including for wild honey from giant bees and stingless bees. Quality standards for honey are needed to produce better quality of honey, safeguard consumer’s health and gain consumer’s trust that they are purchasing quality and safe products, and ensure that honey and the way it is produced meets the legislative policy, and ethical requirements of importing countries for food safety, consumer protection, environmental protection, and worker’s welfare (Partap et al 2012).

Do you believe that not all honey is equal? The plant sources, type of bees and environment are major factors that explain why not all honeys are not the same.  It is for this reason that we need to harmonize tropical honey standards set by each country to further improve its quality. Moreover, standards are used for marketing purposes. The consumers have the right to know the quality of the product they are getting.

As you might know, there are existing standards for honey based on Codex Alimentarius and EU honey directive.  However, the criteria set by EU directives are based on honey produced by western species of honey bees, Apis mellifera. So this means that according to EU honey directive, all honey produced by bees that are not Apis mellifera (or the European honey bee) cannot be sold as honey.   Considering the diverse bee species and vegetation in the tropics, it is about time to establish separate standard for the tropical honey.  In the Hindu Kush Himalayan countries, only China, India and Nepal have developed quality assurance systems for honey. The Philippines has also crafted standard for honey. The aim of harmonization is to find commonalities, identify the critical requirements  that need to be retained, and provide a common standard for the Asian region. 

The following topics will be covered in this discussion:

I.                  Introduction : Definition of honey and How honey is produced

II.                 Species of honey producing bees

III.                Physico-chemical characteristics of tropical honey

IV.                Proposed standard for tropical honey

V.                 Synthesis

We invite you to join the discussion which will run from 7 October to 7 November 2016 to ask questions and most importantly to share your knowledge !




This is a great topic for discussion,Prof Cervancia, thank you for flagging the issue. I work with an organisation, Under The Mango Tree, that promotes beekeeping with the indigenous bee Apis cerana indica in India.  In the course of our work with tribal communities across many states in India, we have seen very good quality honey produced by many indigenous species besides Apis cerana, namely Apis Dorsata, Apis florea and the stingless Trigona. 

We look forward to the discussion and participating in it. 



Ame Locsin's picture

Dear Mr. Krishnam,

I would like to know more about the work your organization does with Apis cerana.  Are your A. cerana prone to absconding and do you have any honey production figures for A. cerana, A. dorsata and A. florea?

Thank you,

Ame Locsin

Dear Ame Locsin


First of all, sincere apologies for the delay in responding to you as I was travelling.

We work exclusively with Apis cerana indica across the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh in India and have trained close to 3500 small holder farmers in Apis cerana beekeeping. We look at beekeeping as an agricultural input for smallholders to increase their yields as a result  of better pollination. Typically the farmers we work with practise subsistence agriculture - some pulses, oilseeds, fruits and vegetables on less than 2 hectares of land- and small scale beekeeping has been proven to increase the yields of most of their crops between 30% -60% on an average. This provides food security to these families and also enables them to increase incomes by selling the surplus in the local markets. 


Now on absconding: Absconding is there - upto 20% of boxes primarily during the dearth season  - but this can be brought down by better management practises and identifying the reasons for absconding - could be dearth of bee flora (especially during heavy rains when bees are unable to forage), wax moth infestation in the box or frequent attacks on the box by enemies like ants etc. Some of our older project areas (4 years old) with  experienced beekeepers, Master Trainers have been able to bring down absconding rates to 10%. On the flip side, in the growth season when agricultural flora is abundant near villages, bee colonies have been known to come back on their own into the beeboxes.


Our average honey production figures are 4 kgs per box per year though experienced master trainers can go upto 6-8 kgs per box due to better management and extraction schedules. 

We currently dont work with Apis dorsata or florea (but intend to shortly) so we dont have figures for these. 

Ame Locsin's picture

Dear Mr. Krishnam,


     Thank you for your very thorough reply.  Personally I haven't had much success managing our A. cerana because it seems like the absconding rate is over 60 to 70% and that figure is unacceptable!  I know of some beekeepers who feed sugar syrup all year round and that prevents them from absconding too much. However, that isn't real honey they harvest from those colonies...so once again it is unacceptable.  I am intrigued as to what kind of management practices you apply that lowers the absconding rate. We do clean our boxes regularly to keep the wax moths away and that helps.....but its impact is minimal regarding absconding.  It's one reason I have never considered cerana to be a bee worth taking care of and best we leave them in the wild where they florish naturally.


Best Regards,

Ame Locsin

Hello. I am now attending the training course of the University of the Philippines Los banos and it had helped me expand my knowlege about beekeeping especially for sting less bees. I am now deciding whether to invest on stingless bees or apis mellifera. We have a 9 hectar land in Bicol- camarines sur Philippines and i will need to check the whole place first before installing colonies.

eraldwin dimailig's picture

if you need stingless bee hive I can help you!

Thank you Dra. Cervancia, for you and your team's hardwork!

What is Honey?

Bees make honey by mixing the nectar they gather from flowers with the substances present in their body. There are two standard definition of honey: 

According to Codex Alimentarius, honey is the natural sweet substance, produced by honeybees from the nectar of plants or from secretions of living plants, or excretions of plant sucking insects on the living parts of the plant, which the bees collect, transform by combining with specific substances of their own, deposit, dehydrate and store and leave in honeycombs to ripen and mature.

The EU definition is almost similar with that of Codex, except that  the honey producer is only Apis mellifera.The standards also provide other quality standards such as moisture, pH, electrical conductivity, hmf, reducing sugar and apparent sucrose which are all characteristics typical for honey from Apis mellifera, and not of tropical honeys.

Why do you think stingless bee honeys are not included? By the way, stingless bees are not honey bees. When the International Honey Commission (IHC) was formed in 1990, honey from stingless bees and other bee species were not be popular yet, thus were not considered in  formulating the definition of honey. The  main objective of the work of the IHC is to improve honey analysis methods and to propose new quality criteria was created under the umbrella of Apimondia with the objective to improve honey analysis methods and to propose new quality criteria.

Now that honey of stingless bee s (Meliponines)  giant bees and Apis cerana have obtained  a place in the global market,  standards should be developed that  define the characteristics of the honey from stingless bees, giant bees and Apis cerana.  In our proposed standards, we will use “bee” instead of honeybee to cover all bee species.

Can you share with us the species of bees you are using for honey production? Are you gathering wild honey from giant bees and stingless bees?

We are looking forward to reading your answers. On October 14, we will be discussing the species of bees producing honey. 

Hi Dra Cercancia

It really makes no sense to have such a tight control over the definition of honey since other products sold in the EU have much broader guidelines.

Take for example milk. Milk marketing in the EU can cover a multitude of products, ranging from cow, goat, soya and even chemicals produced in a lab and sold to children.

It makes economic sense to create broader guildines, backed up by appropriate quality standards, for honey derived from species of bee other than just the European variety. The current price of honey is likely to be exacerbated by the risks associated with existing farming practices resulting in some bee varieties becoming endangered.

My particular focus right now is on the Philppines stingless varieties. I am not a particular fan of honey, but after tasting the product of stingless bees I am a strong believer in the need for its development and promotion.



Dear Steve,

Thank you for the comment. You are correct, let us not restrict the definition of honey because it is the quality that matters. Since all honeys have unifying physico-chemical properties, a reasonable range can be  adopted. With the  data on honey analysis from different countries, it is apparent that the major variations are in the moisture content and hmf.

Let us work together in promoting  stingless bees and their honey. Please keep in touch.