Thailand’s bee farming is the 36th largest in the world, and the second largest in ASEAN after Vietnam, making bees very important to our economy. However, one major obstacle for Thai farmers is the shortage of bee food sources; as a result, they have to give the bees expensive supplements in order for them to produce good-quality honey. For this reason, a team of CMU researchers led by Dr. Bajaree Chuttong from the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology at the CMU Faculty of Agriculture, conducted a study on ‘Pollen substitutes for honeybees’, which would contribute to economic development and sustainably help the community.
Insect consumption is projected to increase domestically and globally in the next three years, and the supply will need to catch up with the demand. A major problem lies in the scarcity of food sources for the bees. Farmers need to move the hives to ensure there are available food sources such as longan and lychee orchards, or move them to forest areas so that the bees can collect the nectar from flowers that bloom in season. Once the honey cultivation period is over, farmers have to give the bees supplements to make sure that they get enough nutrients and will not leave their hives. The quality of pollen substitutes varies and to get an excellent quality honey, excellent materials are a must. But the problem is the increased costs. The researchers have thus come up with a substitute that is effective and affordable, reducing the costs of supplements and hive transportation.
In general, farmers use microorganisms that have enzymes that break down plant fibers for fermentation to produce a ready-to-use leavening agent and therefore increase the nutrition of the food. However, the formulas may not be suitable for the bees’ needs and they may not get enough nutrition due to the low digestibility of most plant materials. So, to boost the nutrition and digestive efficiency of produced bee food, the researchers looked for local agricultural materials to reduce costs and found a cheap leftover material that had similar properties to pumpkin as an ingredient in the bee food formula. Low-grade tomatoes and cantaloupes from Pang Kha Royal Project, and low-grade longans and leftover Phu Lae pineapples from Chiang Rai were also used in the development of new food formulas in collaboration with local farmers and agencies such as the Animal Food Research and Development Centre, Chiang Rai. As a result, these leftovers are turned into products and waste in the community is reduced.
Since 2021, the integrative research network has expanded to include multiple public and private agencies, namely the University of Phayao, Department of Livestock, Enplus Agro Co, Ltd and Kun Thon Honeybee Farm. The partners contribute greatly to the construction of an integrated body of knowledge starting from the supply chain in the upstream to the downstream.
This innovative pollen substitute product won the second runner-up prize in the Agricultural Innovation category at the AIC Award 2022.