WILD Dorsata honey hunting or harvesting is one of the more challenging but profitable ways to make a living among the Agta tribe in the thickly forested and mountain areas in Cagayan Valley.
The Agtas, who are also known as Aetas, are indigenous people who live in scattered, isolated mountainous parts of the island of Luzon. They belong to an ethno-linguistic group who are characteristically short, dark-skinned, and kinky-haired, and are considered one of the native peoples of the Philippines.
Also known as “Agays” in Palaui Island in Santa Ana town in Cagayan province, the Agtas have been hunting or harvesting wild honey in the rainforest to survive, as well as fishing and farming. Close to 200 families reside on the island, where honey extraction or “pamumulot” has been a tradition to them.
The wild honey called “diro ti ayukan” in Ilocano by the local residents on the island is one of the rarest honeys found in the market because of its native origin and socio-cultural significance.
The honey from Palaui also has unique and rare attributes, and is highly regarded for being organic, wild, rare and natural. Today, the rare wild honey harvested in this beautiful tourist destination continues to provide livelihood opportunities to the tribe.
Visiting apiculturists in the island explained wild honey is called Dorsata because it is derived from the bee species Apis dorsata, and it offers an exquisite taste from naturally grown narra tree flowers in the forest of Palaui. During honey flow, the narra trees (Pterocarpus indicus), the Philippines’ most treasured tree species, are the bees’ major source of nectar.
The visiting apiculturists said narra flowers are a very good source of pollen and nectars for the bees; colonies of Apis dorsata depend on the nectar of these flowers during their blooming season from February to May.
An island covered by a vast area of virgin forest, natural resources, and scenic attractions, Palaui has a total area of 7,415.48 hectares, a land area of 2,439 hectares and a marine ecosystem covering 4,976.48 hectares with a shoreline measuring 30.56 kilometers. The island has old growth forest, which is the reason why it is conducive in the production of honey when forest trees, particularly the well-preserved narra, begin to bloom.
Whenever the Agtas find honeycombs in narra trees, they used to set fire at the foot of the tree and use the smoke to drive away honeybees before climbing the tree to gather the honey. But they have to change their ways of hunting or harvesting wild honey when the national government declared the island as a protected area by virtue of Presidential Proclamation No. 447 issued on August 14, 1994.
The Agtas have learned new ways to harvest wild honey to minimize the effects on the environment. Instead of setting fire at the foot of the three, they climb up the tree and produce smoke near the hive, holding the source of the smoke.
Cooperative at the forefront
The Honey Hunters Marketing Cooperative of Palaui Island has been at the forefront in honey production. The cooperative started with 32 households or some 80 individuals as members. Today, the cooperative provides livelihood to dozens of families, both to the Agtas and local residents in the island with the support of Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA), a government owned and controlled corporation.
Under Republic Act 7922, CEZA is mandated to manage and develop the 54,000-hectare Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Freeport, including Palaui Island of Santa Ana town, as well as the islands of Fuga, Barit and Mabbag in Aparri town.
As part of its community support projects, CEZA has been promoting the Dorsata wild honey that first drew attention in September 2012 in a trade fair organized by the Department of Trade and Industry at SM Megatrade Hall in Mandaluyong City (Metro Manila).
Joyce Marie Calimag, CEZA public relations chief, said this rare and organic honey has caught the attention of many tourists and honey lovers because of its exemplary taste and unique qualities.
“Honeybees from narra trees offer great flavors that come fresh from the flower nectar, which the Agtas hunt as part of their staple food,” Calimag said.
Volunteers from the Canadian Executive Service Organization, an international charity institute, in collaboration with CEZA, initiated the Dorsata honey production on the island as a livelihood training project for the indigenous people.
CEZA provided a grant to fund production facilities and helped train the honey hunters or harvesters, and promote the product on a national scale earning the support of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, local government of Santa Ana, Cagayan State University, National Apiculture Research, Training and Development Institute, and Don Mariano Marcos Memorial State University.
Jose Mari Ponce, CEZA administrator and chief executive officer, said the Dorsata honey project as a good example of private-public partnership in countryside development.
”It does not only bring good economic benefits but also complements the natural flow of the ecosystem,” he said.