Over the course of my life, I have done a great deal of travelling. There isn’t much I enjoy more than the experience of meeting new people and exploring new places; the food, the smells, magical landscapes, and, of course, first-hand encounters with local beekeepers. You see, I am currently in Vietnam. This wasn’t supposed to be a work trip –more like, time to relax– but as bees aren’t work for me, they’re passion, I have, of course, ended up exploring some of the delights of Vietnamese beekeeping!
Vietnam is diverse in its nature, climate and environments due to differences in latitude and changes in topography: monsoons, mangroves,mountains, deltas, forests, beaches, this country has it all. Located inside the Indomalayan realm, it also has a high level of biodiversity. In fact, Vietnam is home to approximately 16% of the world’s species, including 840 bird species, 310 mammals, 260 reptiles and a whopping 7750 species of insect! In turn, it is ranked 16th worldwide for biodiversity.
Bees in Vietnam differ from those found in Australia. The Asian honey bee, or Apis Cerana, is smaller than the European honey bee, with less fur on their bodies and an erratic way of feeding. Throughout my tastings, I have noticed that local honey in Vietnam is thinner than varieties in Australia, due to the abundance of tropical fruits here that bees feed on. This results in a fruitier, lighter flavour compared to the eucalyptus honey from home.
Hanoi is one of Asia’s largest honey exporters. And just as climate change has affected many place across the globe, Vietnam hasn’t escaped its wrath. In Hanoi, longer dry seasons and prolonged drought has forced beekeepers to move their hives more regularly: it has been estimated that there has been a huge 20% decrease in kept colonies since 2014. In combination with lower international honey prices which affected the market here, drought, fewer flowers, and floods were among factors cited for this decline in beekeeping in Vietnam.
Research has since gone into the life cycle of the Asian honey bee in Vietnam in order to help preserve the practice of beekeeping during harsh conditions. Interestingly, it seems that, according to Hanoi’s Bee Research and Development Centre, the Asian honey bee works more effectively with inconsistent and limited resources than their European counterpart. In turn, the government is seeking to set up initiatives to help restore natural resources, but it is local, and even international, NGOs that are making a big difference, teaching farmers about the food chain of these local bees so that they can plant the right flowers to help the bees of Vietnam thrive.