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Profitability of Apis mellifera in Vietnam

Nguyen Quang Tan, Bee Research Unit, University of Agriculture and Forestry, Thu Duc, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Introduction

Beekeeping is environmentally sustainable and is a good livelihood practice for many people around the world (Bradbear, 2010). In Vietnam, beekeeping holds an important place in agriculture. Honey is produced for both domestic consumption and for export, and during the last decade Vietnam has been among the world’s top ten honey exporting nations. Of course beekeeping is also crucial for pollination in Vietnam and many plants are dependent on bees to produce nuts, seeds, or fruits: although this value has never been studied in Vietnam, it could be ten times the value earned from bee products.

European races of Apis mellifera honey bees [1] were imported to Vietnam and managed successfully during the early 1960s. In 1991- 92, a study was carried out on beekeeping with Apis mellifera in southern Vietnam (Tan & Binh, 1994). Since then beekeeping has continuously developed and changes have been taking place. This paper updates the information on beekeeping, bee diseases and the economic efficiency of beekeeping with Apis mellifera in Vietnam.

Colonies are moved to new forage sites every few months
PHOTOS © BNGUYEN QUANG TAN

Methodology

Thirty-one apiaries were visited and the beekeepers were interviewed using a questionnaire to collect data. These visits took place June- October 2008 in Ben Tre Province of the Mekong Delta. At this time of year, migratory beekeepers from many provinces bring their colonies to harvest longan and rambutan honey. The data collected was processed using cost benefit analysis.

Results and discussion

The study found that 70% of beekeepers owned their apiaries, while the remainder were employees, and therefore the majority of Apis mellifera apiaries are run by small businesses. Many beekeepers are hired by companies to learn and work in apiaries. After a few years, good employees become owners of the bees and hives with sponsorship from their former employers. Then some of these owners who are very successful for a few years buy more bees, hire labourers, and in turn become new bosses. In this way Apis mellifera beekeeping in Vietnam has increased from a few tens of colonies in the 1960s to nearly one million in 2010. Honey export has grown from 1,000 tonnes in 1990 to 20,000 tonnes in 2010. This suggests that farmers learning from other farmers is a good way to start beekeeping.

Our study found that the typical number of colonies per apiary was 200-300: a manageable number for a skilled beekeeper and a number that can be carried by the trucks commonly used in Vietnam. None of the 31 apiaries produced royal jelly although some had done so in the past. The reasons are because the international market is limited while the local market is small.

Ninety-one percent of the beekeepers interviewed said that income from beekeeping was the main income source for their families. Compared with other agricultural sectors, income from beekeeping is higher but it can be unstable and risky. The majority (60%) of the beekeepers are over 40 years of age and 70% had kept bees for more than 10 years. This suggests that beekeeping is not attractive to younger people.

All apiaries were migratory with colonies being moved long distances of up to 1,500 km many times a year to reach the best flower sources:

Forage source: Acacia mangium

Location: Coastal Central, Binh Phuoc and Ba Ria Vung Tau Provinces

Flowering: March- August

Forage source: Anacardium occidentale (cashew)

Location: Binh Phuoc Province (100 km northeast of Ho Chi Minh City)

Flowering: December- January

Forage source: Coffea canephora

Location: Central Highlands, Dong Nai and Ba Ria Vung Tau Provinces (adjacent to Ho Chi Minh City)

Flowering: January- March

Forage source: Dimocarpus longan (longan)

Location: Mekong Delta

Flowering: Many times each year

Forage source: Hevea brasiliensis (rubber)

Location: Central Highlands, provinces near Ho Chi Minh City

Flowering: February- May

Forage source: Litchi chinensis

Location: Bac Giang Province (100 km northeast of Ha Noi)

Flowering: March

Forage source: Melaleuca cajuputi

Location: Mekong Delta

Flowering: Many times each year

Forage source: Nephelium lappaceum (rambutan)

Location: Mekong Delta

Flowering: Many times each year

Eighty-seven percent of beekeepers regard the parasitic mites Varroa destructor and Tropilaelaps spp as the most serious problems on which they spend most time and money. Bio-technical methods are applied to control the mites: trapping Varroa mites by drone brood removal and making colonies broodless to kill Tropilaelaps mites (Dung et al, 1997). Recently organic acids (formic acid, oxalic acid) and essential oils (Eucalyptus oil, Melaleuca oil, Thymol) are used widely and successfully by the beekeepers.

Tan & Binh (1994) reported that the Asian honey bee Apis cerana was kept for a considerable sideline income. Also using rafter beekeeping techniques allowed honey to be harvested from the giant honey bee, Apis dorsata (Tan 2002).

Data from this study (Tables 1-3) show that beekeeping with Apis mellifera is a good full time occupation for many farmers.

Table 1: Data on economic efficiency of Apis mellifera beekeeping*

Colonies per beekeeper

Statistic: 250

Annual Production Cost: hive depreciation, feeds, transport, labour cost, capital interest     

Statistic: ND 200 million (US$10,000; €7,000)

Honey yield 

Statistic: 45 kg/colony/year

Income   

Statistic: VND 82 million (US$4,100; €2,900)

Profit (Income less cost of labour)

Statistic: VND 40 million (US$2,000; €1,400)

Profit/Cost   

Statistic : 20%

Table 2: Economic efficiency in comparison with bank interest *

Beekeeping Profit/Cost 

Statistic: 20.0%

Bank savings account, Interest per year   

Statistic: 11.5%

Favourable bank loan for farmers, Interest   

Statistic: 14.4%

Normal bank loan interest     

Statistic: 18.0%

Table 3. Comparing Apis mellifera beekeeping in 1994 and 2011*

Colonies per beekeeper  

Year 1994 (Tan & Binh): 87 

Year 2011 (this study): 250

Main nectar sources

Year 1994 (Tan & Binh): longan, rubber

Year 2011 (this study): Acacia cashew,  longan, Melaleuca, rubber

Duration of honey harvest

Year 1994 (Tan & Binh): 6 months

Year 2011 (this study): 8 months

Honey yield per colony per year

Year 1994 (Tan & Binh): 38 kg

Year 2011 (this study): 45 kg

Profit/Cost

Year 1994 (Tan & Binh): 11%

Year 2011 (this study):  20%

National honey export (tonnes per year)

Year 1994 (Tan & Binh): 2,000

Year 2011 (this study): 20,000

Conclusion

Beekeeping in Vietnam has many advantages: beekeepers are skillful and hard working and flower sources are abundant for at least eight months of the year. Beekeeping is considered worthy of support by the government and there is good co-operation between beekeepers, associations, companies, research organisations and universities. We also enjoy good contacts with many international beekeeping organisations and universities.

The type of truck typically used for moving hives in Vietnam
A nicely organised apiary

Risks

Nevertheless, Apis mellifera beekeeping in Vietnam still has many disadvantages and for many beginners, success is difficult to achieve. The investment to start an Apis mellifera apiary is very high at VND250 million (US$12,500; €8,800). Most people cannot afford this investment, so they have to seek a loan - usually with high interest. Daily life is hard in beekeeping, with movement of colonies every few months; often situating bees and living in tents in remote areas. Beekeeping income is unstable because honey yield is highly dependent on the weather, and honey prices fluctuate. There are also a lot of risks in beekeeping: bee diseases and pests as well as poisoning from pesticides. Accidents while transporting bees and forest fires are also risk factors. In addition, the many unforeseen changes in the international honey markets regarding policy and quality cannot be disregarded.

1. Apis mellifera is the species of honey bee indigenous to Africa, Europe and the Middle East. It does not occur naturally in Asia.

ents serve as home during the beekeeping year

References

BRADBEAR, N. (2010) Beekeeping development – why is success so difficult to achieve? International Conference on Beekeeping Development and Honey Marketing, Hanoi Vietnam (2010): 24.

DUNG, N.V.; TAN, N.Q.; HUAN, L.V.; BOOT, W.J. (1997) Control of honey bee mites in Vietnam without the use of chemicals. Bee World 78(2): 78-83.

TAN, N. Q.(2002) Social-economic factors in rafter beekeeping in Vietnam. Bee World 83(4): 165-170.

TAN, N.Q.; BINH, P.T. (1994) Harmony or Conflict: Apis mellifera and Apis cerana in southern Vietnam. Bees for Development Journal 32: 5-8.

Further reading

BfD Journal 98 World honey

BfD Journal 41 AAA Conference in Vietnam

BfD Journal 16 Beekeeping in Vietnam T

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