Beekeeping in TAIWAN
The beautiful island of Formosa
The same size as the Netherlands, the island of Taiwan-previously called Formosa is situated 200 kilometers away from the shores of China, slightly remote from the main routes of Southeast Asia.
Its political isolation is not conductive to exchanges. Since it is ignored by tourists and little promoted by travel agencies, one really needs to have a specific incentive to go to this marvelous tropical island, which is an absolute heaven for royal jelly producers.
The apiarian bibliography does not mention any press articles or T.V. reports in French or in English about beekeeping in this country. For me it was a real discovery!
The Second Largest Agricultural Resource of the country
There are some 1000 commercial beekeepers who earn a leaving from beekeeping in a country with a total population of about 21 million inhabitants.
Although the excellent longani honey ( Euphoria longana) is a good reason for a migration to the south of the island, our Taiwanese colleagues earn the biggest part of their income with royal jelly production. This is why beekeeping products rank as the second largest agricultural commodity to be exported, between tea and silk-worm-breeding or citrus fruits.
The relationship between man and the bee is as old as time. Indeed, the native local bee ( Apis cerana) is plentiful on the island where gathering honey from wild bees was traditional. Although this local bee is also a varroa carrier, infestation can be limited through treatment. These bees produce a much-sought-after honey that sells for 10 times the price of the European bee Honey. Each hive produces about 10 kilograms, that is half the amount from a hive with European bees. These days, we can notice a rising interest from the experts for these particularly endearing and rather docile little bees. They adapt really easily to our framed hives, but can suddenly abscond if you happen to smoke them too much. It is quite common to find these little bees in the numerous cavities of Buddhist temples, which offer them a first-class refuge. However, in order to increase honey harvests, the European bee (Apis mellifera) was imported from Italy years ago.
The tropical heat added to the 2 250 mm rainfall per year make the island a splash of lush vegetation in the middle of the China sea. Amongst the main melliferous plants, we can note longani, litchi, citrus fruits, buckweat and paper tree. As for the pollen rich sources, there are tea, rhus and rape-seed.
Managed pollination is commonly practiced in greenhouses, as well as in open fields and also in market gardening; i.e.strwberry plants, cucumbers and so on.
1700 Larvae per Hour
The cost of labor is quite high for the region-it is comparable to that of Europe. As a consequence, all the beekeeping farms are family businesses. Moreover, like every where else, youngsters are more and more lured to the cities and the booming industries where you work only 6 days a week. So the average bee farm is comprised of only 200 up to 250 hives. They are kept by the husband, his wife and sometimes by their children during the school holidays. The average harvest amounts to 600 kg kilograms of jelly per season. The most efficient beefarms-located in the Eastern part of the island-produce up to 950 Kilograms with 210 colonies of bees. Beekeepers average nine hours work a day for nine months to produce royal jelly. During the rest of the year, the production goes at a slower pace and is dedicated to honey-making. All this enables them to have an income above the countrys average and to live away from the pollution in the cities. These beekeeping families seem to be content with their lot, in spite of their hard-working days! Their stock is usually divided into three apiaries located only a few kilometers away from their home. A small open truck serves as a workshop in which they do all the collecting and grafting operations, while protecting themselves from robbery. A battery head-lamp enables them to see the young larvae properly on the brood frames.
||Every day for nine months, one-third of the stock is worked on for grafting and royal jelly harvesting. Three or four bars containing 34 plastic cells are introduced into each hive. The transfer of the two-day-old larvae is made with a bamboo pin at what might be called an " Asian pace" of 1700 larvae per hour and per head; that is twice what our best European grafting beekeepers can do!|
|Three days later, the jelly is collected with small bamboo spoons, at a speed which rivals with our European royal jelly pumps. The jelly is harvested and stored in freezers before being sent to Japan or Europe. Another three days later, this very apiary will undergo the same operation again.||
The hives are of the ten-frame Langstroth type, worked with a movable queen-excluder grid. Two brood-frames in the queenless part are set on both sides of the cell-cup bars of the frame. Each time they are handled, they are systematically nourished with sugar syrup ( 30 Kg./hive/year) and during the rainy season, beekeepers add some proteined paste made of 50% tea or rape-seed pollen and 50% soya flour which they mix together with a bit of honey.
All these colonies are populated with Italian bees, which are remarkably gentle and have been successfully selected for years because of their high royal jelly out-put (0,4 gr./cell). According to our Taiwanese colleagues, the specific genetic characters for the honey harvest would be unsuitable for that of royal jelly production.
As for diseases, varroasis can be treated with Apistan inserts. Another cause for concern for our Taiwanese colleagues is the American foulbrood. As in the other countries, they resort to antibiotics. However, the island is free from acarine disease and is only very slighted affected by nosema or chalkbrood.
||Although honey production represents a mere 4000 metric tons per year, royal jelly production is over 350 metric tons per year. It is the second world producer after China, which produces over 600 metric tons a year under similar working conditions. Half the production is exported to Japan and Europe; the rest is eaten locally. The royal jelly from Taiwan is said to be of a better quality than that produced in China or Thailand. It is sold for twice the price on the world market.|
Moreover, it seems that experts can distinguish the difference in taste between royal jellies from different regions. The kind of flora and nectar flow during the jelly harvest may alter its taste and we must admit that the jelly produced on the beautiful island is particularly smooth, sweet and well-flavored.
600 Hives by Air
Royal jelly production technique were mainly developed in Japan during the 1940s. One must always remember that this country is still the highest royal jelly importing country with more than 400 metric tons per year. Then, with the cost of labor getting higher and higher, the Japanese trained and settled beekeepers in Taiwan. Oddly enough, the Taiwanese are now facing the same situation as the Japanese of 50 years ago and are now creating production units in China and Thailand for similar reasons. That is why Mr. Chen, one of the Asian royal jelly tycoons, has transported 600 complete hives by air from Taiwan to the North of Thailand. That was done for the very first time. From this embryonic bee-farm a 2000 colony royal jelly production unit was created, which uses the same methods and techniques as aforementioned.
In the department of entomology and biology of the Taipei University scientists are also conducting research on the bee. They have proved that freeze-dried royal jelly has lost most of its constituents. Indeed, young larvae fed on freeze-dried royal jelly could not survive. Analysis methods are getting more sophisticated and the origin of jellies can now be determined with accuracy.
A gourmet meal
The local consumption of fresh royal jelly is still considerable with more than 150 metric tons per year being eaten. Entwined, Chinese dietetics and medicine promote a healthy, balanced diet which favors its consumption. Whereas in Europe, the recommended daily intake amounts to 1 gram only, it reaches between 10 and 20 grams in Asia! Those who can afford it consume this amount the first thing in the morning.
||The young queen larvae collected before the royal jelly harvest are a golden opportunity for haute-cuisine restaurateurs. The gourmets who stick to traditions will eat the two-or three-day-old larvae simply mixed in an omelet. They can also be cooked with wine.|
While visiting these bee farms, one is struck by the faultless work organization. Furthermore, one of the most remarkable points is the breeding selection conducted for several decades on this very productive bee. All these points, added to a perfectly adapted climate and flora, have contributed to make of Taiwan the ideal location for royal jelly production.
Last update: 10/08/01
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