Royal University of Phnom Penh Masters of Development students Eileen McCormick, 27, and Chhoy Nareth, 31, want to set up Phnom Penh’s first commercial box beekeeping operation. The pair, from Long Island in New York and Kampong Cham respectively, came up with the idea for the National SME (small and medium enterprises) Business Model Competition and believe that box beekeeping is a better method than traditional ‘honey hunting’, where people go into the forest to collect the produce of wild bees. They recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $15,000 for the business. Will Jackson heard about the plan from McCormick and Nareth.
What are some traditional uses of honey in Cambodia, other than to eat it?
McCormick: Natural healers use honey to cure sickness and royal jelly [queen bee larvae] is used as really special medicine that is quite expensive and hard to come by. Honey has a lot of antioxidants and is believed by many to heal minor cuts, but I’m not sure if it’s still used as widely that way any more.
Nareth: Cambodian people also believe that it is important to have at least half a litre of honey in their house because it can prevent marking after getting burned and it can be mixed with warm water to drink when you have a sore throat, cough or cannot sleep.
How big is the box beekeeping industry in Cambodia?
McCormick: The Beekeeping Association of Cambodia (BAC) has members doing box bee keeping in Kampong Chhnang, Pursat and Pailin. Maybe in the BAC there are 10 people doing this right now. There could be other people, but doing it on a really small scale for their own consumption or selling it to their local community.
Who taught you about beekeeping?
McCormick: His name is Sergei [from the BAC] and he’s currently making our boxes. He’s from Russia. The other people in the association are mostly from Slovenia. I had no idea, but they claim that Slovenians are the oldest beekeepers in the world. These people have 200 boxes back in Slovenia, so some of them spend six months here and six months back in their home country. Sergei’s a funny guy. He’s Russian and they are Slovenian, but he doesn’t speak Slovenian or English, he only speaks Russian and Khmer, so when they all communicate it all has to be in Khmer. It’s kind of a funny thing to watch it all go down.
What’s the biggest challenge to beekeeping in Cambodia?
McCormick: People use pesticides that kill the bees. We have to convince the local community not to use pesticides that will kill the swarms.
Are there any advantages to beekeeping here?McCormick: Bees really like the warm weather. They could actually produce more honey because it doesn’t just have to be one time a year like in the US and Europe. Here you could continuously harvest. The lowest point would be in rainy season and the highest in March, April, May. It’s pretty continuous. There are also not too many hive diseases here. Ants are the biggest pest and they just put water underneath the hives which prevents the ants from eating the bees. It seems there aren’t as many mites and diseases that impact European and American colonies.
Why do you think starting up a box beekeeping farm would be financially sustainable?
Nareth: We had to do a lot of market research for the SME competition and we found that, for example, a store like Lucky Supermarket has a deficit of 30 litres of honey per week that they need so they’re importing it from other countries. I believe within three years we can start making a profit if we have 20 boxes and we’re able to make 100 litres of honey a year. We’ll break even after two years and we’ll make a profit after three.
When are you going to get the operation up and running?
McCormick: We will be acquiring the boxes in October, however further equipment, such as a wax machine and honey processor, is dependent on our ability to raise the full funding from Kickstarter. It’s our hope within a year of getting the boxes we will be able to start selling honey on the national market.
Check out McCormick and Nareth’s Kickstarter campaign here: kickstarter.com/projects/84786127/cambodian-organic-bee-farm.