Voices from the forest: Laguna’s ‘mamumuhag’

Ant-size like lukot (a native stingless bee) is in-demand among Filipino beekeepers because it pollinates high-value crops and produces propolis, besides honey. (Photo courtesy of Patricia Bravante)


LEGAZPI CITY, Albay — A mamumuhag (honey-hunter) is a ‘mountain person’, a 47-year-old honey-hunter from Majayjay, the southernmost town of Laguna said.

Kuya Bantor, who prefers to be called by that nickname, has been hunting for wild honey for 15 years now. His and its neighboring towns in Quezon province are at the foot of Mt. Banahaw, an active volcano that serves as a watershed for lowland communities.

“Because of poverty, I learned to hunt for wild honey which serves as a source of income for us,” Kuya Bantor said in a phone interview.

According to him, the price of honey that he sells depends on the type of bees. For instance, a sterilized (ketchup) bottle filled with honey from pukyutan (giant honeybee) costs P200 pesos, and the honey from lukot (a native stingless bee) costs P150 pesos.

Kuya Bantor would sell these in his and neighboring towns. “If I and another mamumuhag could sell 40 bottles in two towns, that’s big already,” he says.

His peak earnings can reach up to P50,000 pesos during the dry months of April, May, and June. This means money comes easy for his family during these times of the year, all thanks to his pamumuhag which also made his five children go to school.

Since his livelihood depends on wild bees, he told Bulatlat that out of 20 colonies he would find, he’d spare the six or seven smallest colonies. According to him, in the next year, those would become 20 colonies again. He sells one bee colony to beekeepers for P250 pesos or higher.

When he’s not hunting for wild honey, he provides labor to family farms like that owned by the Bravante family. Patricia Bravante, who is a beekeeper, used to be Kuya Bantor’s buyer of lukot. She said he didn’t have formal training in honey-hunting but he followed their suggestion to leave small colonies in the wild — a lesson she learned from her beekeeping training at the University of the Philippines in Los Baños.

“Now, we strive to grow our colonies through splitting instead of buying,” she says.

With the thriving beekeeping industry in southern Luzon, the demand for bees also increases. Kuya Bantor also sells colonies to beekeepers in the provinces of Rizal, Cavite, and Batangas.

He too understands the risk of overhunting the wild bees, when he says that it concerns him how some new honey- and bee-hunters would get everything, especially during the pandemic.

As pollinators, bees are important in maintaining biodiversity and in reversing forest degradation, a subject matter that will take center stage, alongside five key integrated actions, at the XV World Forestry Congress in South Korea on May 2 to 6.

Delegates — governments, universities, civil society and the private sector — will deliberate the future of forests, which according to its website, will be “in the context of recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic while striving to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.”

The [lockdowns due to the] pandemic was a burden for Kuya Barton because he couldn’t make his usual routine. “I survey the forest first for one week and will return when I get enough orders,” he says.

He’s also concerned about the dam project that will submerge forests in Rizal and Quezon provinces. He said “the bees will lose their home,” which is part of the Sierra Mountain range where the largest remaining old-growth forests in the country are found and is shared by forest communities in Luzon — from the north, central, and all the way to the south where Majayjay is. (RVO) (https://www.bulatlat.com)

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