Three honey-producing communities in Kratie, Stung Treng and Preah Vihear provinces received certificates of compliance for implementing Participatory Guarantee Systems coordinated by the Non-Timber Forest Products-Exchange Programme Cambodia (NTFP-EP).

The November 29 certification ceremony was held in Phnom Penh, with the participation of the president of NTFP-EP Cambodia, representatives of Nature Wild, the Cambodia Federation for Bee Conservation and Community-based Wild Honey Enterprise, as well as the bee collection committees of Dang Phlit village, Krom village and Teuk Khmao temple.

Sim Bunthoeun, NTFP-EP’s country programme manager, said the issuance of the certificates was in recognition of adherence to the conditions and principles that the NTFP-EP and Natural Wild worked together to devise.

This includes using the traditional way of collecting honey by using smoke to calm the bees. Another condition is to harvest only 70 to 80 per cent of the honeycomb and leave the remainder for the bees and their young. In this way, more eggs will hatch, and the hive can be harvested three times per season,” he added.

NTFP-EP is an international non-profit organisation that works in six countries, including Cambodia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and India, according to Lach Voleak, community development officer in Kratie province.

“What is the Participatory Guarantee System--PGS? It is a system that focuses on the consistent implementation of sustainable wild honey collection, adherence to the principles of good hygiene and active participation in the protection of natural resources,” he explained.

Among the community members who received certificates confirming their honey’s quality is a 32-year old Sip Cheang, from the Toeuk Khmao temple wild honey collection community in Kratie province. He said that the training and certification had been really important for his community. He started harvesting wild honey in 2010, in addition to farming.

“In the beginning, I took honey in a traditional way. When the NTFP-EP came to our community and trained us in 2018, I learnt how to harvest it sustainably,” he told The Post.

Cheang claimed that over the past 12 years, the once abundant honey has become scarcer. He blamed the decline in honey production on deforestation and climate change.

Ek Sovanna, from the same community, remembered how people had no idea how to sell the honey before the wild honey collection community was established.

“We only kept it for family use, or mixed it with alcohol,” he said.

He acknowledged that changing their collection practices to meet the new standards was difficult at first. For example, collecting honey from the top of a tree without damaging the hive was time consuming and awkward. Regardless, the community was committed to following the guidelines.

Whether or not there is monitoring from the organisation, Sovanna said the community would follow the new standards. Each member wanted to be certified, as it gave consumers the confidence to order honey from them.

“We have to work hard and make sure everyone is adhering to the required techniques. We even have our own honey quality control committee,” he added.

Bunthoeun said that the organisation is implementing the third phase of its Partnership for Forestry and Fisheries Communities in Cambodia – which is funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and Sweden – for two years from July 2021 to June 2023.

NTFP-EP focuses on non-timber forest products, which most communities can benefit from. In addition to bees, the organisation also works on the production of buffalo horn items, including chopsticks and cutlery, swords, spears and other souvenirs. It is also involved in establishing ecotourism activities along the upper Mekong River in Kratie and Stung Treng provinces.

NTFP-EP has been operating in Cambodia since 2017, and has worked with 26 enterprises and communities in Kratie, Stung Treng and Preah Vihear.

Bunthoeun explained that honey was a complex product, as it was not practical to have every batch tested for purity in a laboratory.

“We sell it as 100 per cent pure, as do Nature Wild and all online sellers,” he said.

He added that there was no way to be certain, but that the certification meant the communities were collecting in a way that meant it was pure.

“We need to maintain trust between the community members and their leaders, and between the consumers and the vendors. This is a complex issue, and we need to determine if community members are honest before we certify them,” he said.

He said honey collected during the correct season will be pure, with a moisture content that is not too high.

The top grade of wild honey contains 18 to 20 percent moisture, with the second grade measuring at 20 to 21 per cent, and so on.

Based in Phnom Penh, Nature Wild buys honey from the community and packages it for sale. They are the final market for the communities before it reached the consumer.

Bunthoeun addressed the declining yields of wild honey that the Kingdom was experiencing.

“I want all communities to share the knowledge they now have about sustainable honey collection. This especially applies to those who use fire or any other means to kill all of the bees in a hive before taking the honey,” he said.