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Beauty and the bees

/ 12:20 AM February 02, 2017

When, in the past, many beauty pageant contestants almost always mentioned care for the environment as their advocacy, this time there was none of that. Not in the 65th Miss Universe pageant held in the Philippines last week, which was hard to beat in its pomp and pageantry.

Held here for the third time, the pageant put the Philippines on the world’s tourism map as intended, with the beautiful spots highlighted, the people’s warmth on full display.

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But the issue of the environment was sidelined. Had it been so overused? Is it no longer a sexy advocacy that would make the judges and the crowd sit up and listen? Mother Nature statements might no longer work, so on with new advocacies, the more daring and unheard of the better.

The thing about celebrities turned ambassadors of goodwill is that the advocacies they pick might become mere objects of lip service because these are difficult to accomplish. What we really need to hear is something more specific and workable.

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What about Mother Nature’s woes that we want addressed in very specific ways? Is it polluted rivers, endangered polar bears, the destruction of forests, the vanishing indigenous tree species? And how does, say, a beauty queen proceed to do something concrete about it?

Which brings me to the latest news about very important members of the so-called web of life: bees.

The latest news on bees is that a species of bumblebee is now on the endangered list, or is in “a race against extinction,” the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced two weeks ago. The population of the rusty patched bumblebee has dramatically declined by 87 percent in the past 20 years. There have been other bad news on bees before this.

We know by now that when the bee population is in trouble, Planet Earth is in trouble. No bees, not enough food on the planet. Bees help plants that need insect intervention by pollination to produce fruits, seeds, nuts and flowers. We learned this fact in grade school but took it for granted. We thought bees are forever. We equate them only with honey—honey for our pancakes and waffles, and for some, their beauty regimen or as a medicinal agent.

Some time back the Food and Agriculture Organization issued the reminder: “Bees are bellwethers for the healthy agricultural ecosystems they help create.”

I am part of a Facebook group concerned with Philippine native bees and the indigenous people who make sure that bees thrive in our forests. The group is Blessed Bees and Forest Discussion Group (Bee-yaya ng Gubat). We have been invited to this group because of our interest in pure, wild, raw honey.

But the more important thing about this is how to contribute in making wild honey hunting in the Philippines sustainable.  And what species of bees are we referring to here? They are the native giant bees or apis dorsata. They thrive in the south Sierra Madre, in the forest triboundary of Rizal, Quezon and Bulacan.

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Darwin Flores of Smart Communications Inc. has been providing technical support (part of Smart’s corporate social responsibility) to indigenous groups including the Dumagat of Sierra Madre. The “honey advocacy” resulted in better harvesting conditions and handling of the honey. Transporters have been provided with back frames so that carrying their load across rugged trails and rivers would not be so difficult.  We pay a little more for this golden sweetness that, or so it is said, has an eternal shelf life.

The giant apis cordata are stinging bees but the indigenous folk have a way of “taming” them. Honey supply is not limitless; much has to be left for the honeybees that produce them. The Dumagat themselves declare the beginning and end of the harvesting season. The next honey-gathering season starts again this March. The Dumagat have constructed a Bahay Bubuyog in the mountains of Rizal. The specs are based on the University of the Philippines-Los Banos beekeeping training.

Last year Darwin sent an advisory that the intense El Niño heat had affected the flowering of the forest trees that supply the nectar and pollen. He had to equitably allocate the honey among those who ordered. I must say I had my fill and with enough to share contained in mason jars.

I have been advised not to advertise the where, how and how much lest profiteers find their way into the forest primeval.

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TAGS: bee, bees, miss universe, opinion, pollination, Population, Tourism
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