Along the old Tutong Road, in Kg Sg Kelugos, is a stingless bee farm that is frequently visited so much that its owner, Hj Mitasby Hj Mamit, has become an authority on the matter.
When Hj Mitasby set up the Tasbee Meliponiculture Farm in 2009 (meliponiculture means commercial stingless beekeeping), he knew very little about beekeeping. His fascination for bees started when he was in the army which involved spending a lot of time in the jungle. That was when he first encountered stingless bees in all kinds of sizes.
“My elders used to tell me that lebah kelulut (Malay for stingless bees) honey has health benefits. Some variety of bees produce more honey than others and all of them produces honey that tastes different,” says the now-retired army personnel.
Educating about stingless bees
Mitasby is on a mission. He’s not just beekeeping for the sake of business. He knows that bees play an important role in the natural ecosystem so he makes sure that visitors walk away being more informed about bees.
The farm gets visits from school children, tourists and people who are close to retirement. Many visitors come to learn how to keep bees. He teaches them how to sustainably collect honey and make honey derivative products. For free.
Mitasby insists that it’s his way of encouraging people to appreciate stingless bees as an animal species and not just for their honey.
“People used to cover the nests or spray them to get rid of the stingless bees. Hunters who were after the honey would throw away the eggs.
There was no knowledge on how to farm kelulut and help care for the colony. But now people know their benefits, they know to leave the hives alone,” he says.
His farm now has over 100 nests which are all weaved in between well-spaced trees and flower plants. Mitasby has managed to provide sanctuary to 18 of the 22 species of stingless bees including rare species which have been officially recognised by the Forestry Department.
Mitasby says that bee farming is now a full-time gig for him, but he is most comfortable playing the role of an educator. The latest addition to the farm is a mini gallery, which he built in May 2017. There are posters on stingless bee species in Malaysia and Indonesia, as well as information on their lifecycle. This setup is perfect for curious travellers or students that want to learn more about stingless bees.
Sustainable bee products for sale
In another corner, there’s a wide variety of products for sale: small jars of honey, honey-based soap, beeswax candles and propolis (a mixture of plant sap and bee secretions with health benefits).
Mitasby’s role becomes more important at a time when bees face the threat of being wiped out due to increasing rates of colony collapse disorder, which happens when bees leave their hives in large numbers or are unable to organise themselves to survive.
What started out as a simple curiosity for Mitasby has now transformed into a deep sense of care and stewardship. And that’s great news! At least we know that the bees aren’t flying solo with people like Mitasby around.