Creating a buzz for Highlands’ honey producers

An innovative small company is creating a buzz in Papua New Guinea this week as it launches a mobile support service for local beekeepers in the Eastern Highlands Province.

The New Guinea Fruit bee extension team. From left: Justin James, Wilson Tomato, Sally Watson, Solomon Loie, Kereve Hagu. Photo: David Shields / Oxfam 

An innovative small company is creating a buzz in Papua New Guinea this week as it launches a mobile support service for local beekeepers in the Eastern Highlands Province. New Guinea Fruit has partnered with international development agency Oxfam in PNG to help beekeepers increase honey production and income for their families, in a public-private project co-funded by New Guinea Fruit, Oxfam New Zealand and the New Zealand Aid Programme.

The joint project will see New Guinea Fruit (NGF) set up a ‘honey hotline’ for registered beekeepers to call for technical advice, as well as employ full-time extension officers and provide a dedicated vehicle to replenish beekeeping supplies and connect remote rural regions to the market. NGF buys honey direct from beekeepers in the village, reducing the cost and difficulties for rural people to access distant markets.

“The ‘honey hotline’ is a major innovation in how extension services are provided to remote communities in PNG,” said David Shields, Livelihoods Programme Manager for Oxfam in PNG. “Together with the dedicated extension services provided by New Guinea Fruit, this will really help rural families earn a living through beekeeping.”

New Guinea Fruit produces the Highlands Honey brand and has been supporting beekeepers in the Highlands for over 15 years, despite dwindling production levels. Sally Watson, director of New Guinea Fruit says access in and out of remote rural regions is critical to the success of the local industry.

“One of the main reasons we have kept on buying honey is out of loyalty to the rural beekeepers who have continued to produce over the years. There is a big demand for honey across PNG, and we think that one of the missing links at the moment is apiculture extension services and access to buyers.”

David Shields from Oxfam agrees: “Oxfam’s research into the PNG honey industry shows a large domestic and international demand which isn’t being met. Honey has provided a strong income for rural farmer families for many years, but they have not had much support to improve their skills, and honey production has decreased over the years. If it wasn’t for honey buyers like New Guinea Fruit, and the trainings provided by the government, the industry would have died by now.”

Apiculture expert and head of the New Guinea Fruit extension team Wilson Tomato sees more reasons for extension work. “We are facing new challenges with climate change and new bee diseases impacting PNG bees, so it is important we work together with our farmers to educate them and face these new problems. Bees are also very important to all agriculture activities because they pollinate coffee as well as other food crops. It is critical to maintain a good bee population in our country.”

Shields agrees. “We hope these services will complement the ongoing work of the government to grow the apiculture industry in the Highlands and across the country. Together, we can help rural farmer families increase their income, and provide Highlands’ honey to tables across PNG.”