Friday, July 8, 2016

Ramadhan in Retrospect

On this date, 8 July in 2014, the 10th day of Ramadhan, we had obtained our very first twenty colonies of Heterotrigona itama stingless bees (meliponines). On 26 June 2016, the 21st day of Ramadhan, we lost the same number to the most feared pest of stingless bees.

From the first twenty colonies, we had gradually increased the number to one hundred and thirty over the next two years. It wasn't easy as we had to plant a lot of flowers and trees as the farm is located amongst palm oil plantations which do not provide a source of nectar, resin, pollen and other elements needed to sustain the bees.

 Cultured stingless bees in the country, mainly in the northern and east coast states of peninsula Malaysia were invaded by two different kinds of pests simultaneously: the black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens) and the sap beetle (Haptoncus luteolus). Some farms had lost hundreds of logs. Bilut Valley Bee Farm was not spared by this ravaging infestation that we believe, was an after effect of the El Nino phenomenon. Not as many as others but a great loss to us, nevertheless.

The situation was reported by Sinar Harian following an interview with Assoc. Prof. Dr. Shamsul Bahri Abd Razak from Universiti Malaysia Terengganu. Read the report here.

All I could do was watch, mostly Aiman's
hard work
on the toppings, go to ash

We were devastated but we had to make a fast decision to cut losses to the minimum and contain the infestation as quickly as possible. The meliponines had already absconded and had left their larvae infested hives. We had been advised by experts to burn these logs pronto.

I was so proud of Marzia;
despite the pressing situation, she had the foresight
to collect a sample of the honey from the
infected logs that could be used for analysis.
Although the logs were empty, my heart ached and tears fell uncontrollably seeing the logs being carried away. They once housed our beloved bees which were thriving well,  producing a good amount of honey and given me so much joy. It was most unbearable wondering if they had found suitable trees in which they would build their new hives. Thankfully, Aiman, Marzia and my future son-in-law Faisal who happened to be visiting, were there to provide support. They had done the job of disposing the logs very quickly and efficiently.

I had insisted Aiman saw the logs before
burning to ensure no bees, especially
a queen bee was left behind.
The casualties.

Firdaus - Dr. Shamsul's trusted and
able research assistant.
Assoc. Prof. Dr. Shamsul
is possibly the only academician in
the whole country who took the initiative
to gather samples from infested hives to 

identify the pests, find out the cause and
also seek ways to eradicate the infestation.
During this time, I was also in touch with my husband, my partners and a WhatsApp chat group comprising researchers from University Malaysia Terengganu, officers from the Perak Agriculture Department and fellow beekeepers. They all had driven me to do whatever that was necessary and had provided much needed consolation in facing a sudden loss of thousands of my precious bees.

Thanks to each and everyone of them, I rebounded rather quickly from the calamity. There was a point when I had started to think if I had made the right decision going into meliponiculture. But I spotted a request to visit the farm by a friend of Aiman on our Facebook wall. This stopped me from thinking that way, and I knew it was a Sign from the Divine. Nik Saufi had visited the farm twice before, and this would be his third visit...because he simply loved it there. And so did many others. So many love the honey, too. I couldn't disappoint them all.

Najib - an extreme enthusiast of meliponines
appointed by UMT to be a part of their research
"Verily, along every hardship is a relief."
"Verily, along every hardship is relief."
I had just only been enlightened about these ayah belonging to Surah Insyiroh a few days before the incident. It had always been simply translated to me that relief came with hardship. But it had not been highlighted that lots of blessings come down within and during the hardship. I now bear witness to that; I was put in a vulnerable position but I am blessed with so many things and people, family who give love and support, and friends who gave a splendid show of camaraderie and esprit-de-corps.

The Rahmah (compassion) and blessings from Allah surpasses, reigns over everything.
This was my Ramadhan, one that was overflowing with blessings as had been promised by Allah swt, and one that I would not forget for I guess, a very long, long time.

Written by Aniza Zain Ahmed for my family members namely my beloved husband Ahmad Cendana who remained so cool while giving very rational advice which immediately gave me immense strength while I was shaken and frantic. My children Aiman Mazlan and Marzia Mazlan who were calm, collected and so professional and took over handling the situation when their mom was distraught, my sisters Datin Aimi Zain Ahmed and Fauziah Shariff who stood solidly by us.

 Also for the Kelulut Warriors Assoc. Prof. Dr. Shamsul Bahri Abdul Razak, Mohammad Firdaus bin Sulaiman, "Supermokh" Mokhtar Ishak, Hj. Mohd Najib Rais Hj Mohd Noordin (UMT Kelulut researchers), Puan Nur Hafizah Sharudin, Puan Hazrina Rashid (Perak DOA), veteren stingless beekeeper Tuan Rosman Mohd Isa, Mat Khairil Matkentoi and Assoc. Prof. Dr. Nurazura Adam (UPM).
Puan Nur Hafizah, left, and Puan Hazrina.
Don't be fooled by their demure looks, these are hardworking, dedicated

and courageous women serving the country and it's people.
Hafizah did not hesistate even for a second in volunteering to join a
response team which Dr. Shamsul initiated to visit affected farms in Kedah.
Within a very short time, she had managed to gather officials from
DOA Penang and Kedah which included a Deputy Director and led the team
to investigate massive infestation in the beefarms.. 

Matkentoi, a man of a man of all trades. He had joined the
response team on his own accord.

Rosman Mohd Isa runs and manages the biggest
stingless bee farm in Malaysia, located in Merbok. Kedah. He was the very first to highlight problems faced by
beekeepers in Kedah. He, together with Haji Najib, had made
ad hoc visit to the affected farm and confirmed the presence
of larvae in the hives. This was followed by the formimg
of Kelulut Quick Response Team in which the duo made a second trip to the said farms. .
i was awed by the dedication of my associates, and the speed at responding
to calls for help with regards to stingless bees.
He, and the rest of the team, are warriors in the true sense of its word.


Friday, May 27, 2016

Royal Belum Kelulut Experition 2 Part 2: Exploring One of the Oldest Rainforest in the World

The Royal Belum rainforest

 On the first leg of the expedition,we visited a remote orang asli village on the island. The boat ride took three hours but we loved the scenery all along the way. The Temenggor Lake was a beautiful emerald green and lined with thick virgin forest the the whole way. It was an exhilarating ride to say the least, yet so serene at the same time.

The boathouse called Mystical.

Dr. Shamsul, always thinking ahead.
Paricipants took this time to get to know one another and of course discuss matters pertaining to stingless bees abd sharing experiences. But for many of us it was the first trip there and many were just sitting on the outer deck gazing at the scenery, mesmerised by it all. Thee air was clean and fresh; the sun was behind the clouds but it didn't matter. Royal Belum had captivated our hearts.

Marzia handing out biscuits to the chilgren of the orang asli.
Kg. Chuweh 2 ia a tiny village inhabited by only eight families comprising all of 46 people. The men from this village had a tribal dispute with those from the main village and separated themselves to another location. We were given a briefing by Jad aka Royal Pirate's our trusted guide as soon as we landed on the settlement. It was strangely quiet and we found ourselves talking in almost a whisper. Only a few men and children were visible. Apparently, orang asli women are extremely shy and stayed in their huts they call their home. 
What will they grow up into?
Jad, our very enthusiastic guide

The children were all sitting in a group huddled together; they must be quite familiar with visitors as they stood ground when we approached them. They didn't respond when we spoke to them though. We still think about them till today, as we wonder about their lives and livelihood, and most important their future, if there is any.

The huts that are home to the orang asli of Kg. Chuweh 2

Can you taste it on your taste bud?
Eager and raring to go.
After a hearty and delicious lunch prepared on the boat by Dr. Shamsul's wife, Puan Zayda herself, we set out in motorboats for a jungle trekking trip to the Sg. Tujuh waterfall nearby. 

This was the highlight of the expedition as this was where we had hoped to find stingless bees, especially from the very rare species. As we were delayed by the rain earlier and the sky was cloudy, Dr. Shamsul decided to call-off the trip for safety reasons. He, however, together with Hj. Najib, Dr. Nur Azura from Universiti Pertanian Malaysia and five other abled men  proceeded as planned, in search of stingless bee hives which are prevalent near waterfalls and riversides.
Crispy fried fresh fish caught by Taufik 

The night wasn't any less eventful. Before dinner, there was a short talk given by Hj. Najib on meliponiculture after which the floor, or rather the deck, was open to questions which the kelulut keeper duly answered without reservation. It started to drizzle again that night, threatening to upset our plans, everyone remained hopeful and positive.

Dinner was a barbecue of delicious, succulent chicken and lamb, a contribution by Mohd Khairul aka Matkentoi. a lumber and jack of sorts. The night ended with Jad's fascinating stories about the animals in the forest, and all the wonders of one of the oldest forest in the world.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Royal Belum Kelulut Expedition 2 Part 1: The Indo-Malayan Kelulut Warriors

The Bilut Valley Bee Farm once again took time off to join another expedition last weekend, 21 and 22 May, 2016. It was organised by Universiti Malaysia Terengganu (UMT), lead by Associate Professor Dr. Shamsul Bahri Abd Razak, a lecturer at the Pusat Pengajian Sains Dan Teknologi Makanan (Center for Science and Food Technology Studies) at the university. We had been waiting anxiously for this as having participated in the first ever kelulut (stingless bee) expedition in Bukit Kor, Terengganu, which was also  organised by Dr. Shamsul  and his team, we were certain it would be a very good event.
Almost the whole Bilut Valley Bee Farm tean from left Aniza,,Aiman, Marzia,  and Fauziah.

We were not disappointed - the Royal Belum Kelulut Expedition 2 was a huge success and the response at the end of it was unanimous; everyone was happy and satisfied with the programme throughout the expedition. Dr. Shamsul is passionate about stingless bees and studies on these meliponines which are endemic to tropical and sub-tropical countries. He is so determined to explore the forests in search of species that have been recorded by earlier researchers but have not been sighted as yet. He is fascinated by their behaviours and habitat, thus his commitment and dedication towards his endeavour.

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Shamsul Bahri Abd Razak

Dr. Shamsul also believes that anyone and everyone involved in stingless bees can contribute in research and the sharing of knowledge, and an expedition like this would be the perfect event to bring meliponine lovers together. He is extremely congenial to everyone regardless of background and stature, which makes him very well-liked by everyone.

The expedition was also attended by Hj. Mohd Najib Rais Hj.Noordin, an extreme enthusiast of meliponines. He was appointed by UMT as a resaercher in their Kumpulan Penyelidik Lebah Dan Kelulut UMT (UMT Honey Bee and Meliponine Research Group) as he has an exceptionally sharp eye in identifying different species of stingless bees. His supernatural ability to observe the bees' behaviour in foraging, and his findings have created a revolution in meliponiculture. Previously, it was believed that the main factor for the sustainability of a colony was nectar. But from Hj. Najib's observation, it is now evident that the source of resin is much more crucial for the survival of a stingless bees colony.

The rambunctious kelulut keeper.

From left  Marzia, Aniza, Dr. Shamsul, Hj. Najib and Fauziah at the Banding Island jetty.
An early morning shower failed to dampen our spirits as we left the Banding Island jetty on two houseboats that would be our transport and accommodation over the next two days. We were delighted to learn that Dr. Shamsul's lovely wife, Puan Zayda Kasim and their four sons were already on the boat and had been busy preparing breakfast. They were also to prepare all our other meals during the two day wonderfully gracious!

Madam Zayda, chef extraordinaire kept us happy with her delicious cooking.
Muhammad Firdaus Sulaiman, Dr. Shamsul's right wingman.

In all, there were fourty-six kelulut-loving participants from various backgrounds; university researchers, government officers (but not on official duty) beekeepers, meliponiculturists, business people, honey hunters and even an actor/drama and film producer. We have become a huge, big family who share the same love for bees and the same aspirations. We are the keepers of the bees. We are the Kelulut Warriors.

The Kelulut Warriors
Assoc. Prof. Dr.Shamsul Bahri Bin Abd Razak (UMT)
Talhah Bin Yahya (UMT)
Muhammad Firdaus Bin Sulaiman (UMT)
Mokhtar Bin Ishak (UMT)
Zayda Binti Kasim
Muhamad Syazwan bin Shamsul Bahri    
Syazli Adam bin Shamsul Bahri                
Syazrul Harris bin Shamsul Bahri              
Syazmin Iskandar bin Shamsul Bahri        
Siti Asma’ Binti Samsudin (UMT)
Noorhafizah Bt Rahim
Fauziah Binti Shariff (BVBF)
Aniza Zain Ahmed (BVBF)
Aiman Mazlan (BVBF)
Marzia Mazlan (BVBF)
Wan Sharif B Majid.
Syamsul B Shafiee
Puovin Sandera
Loh Chung Tat
Azrul Azam Bin Nizarudin
Muhammad Riduan Bin Ismail
Mohd Ridzwan Razak
Nur Hafizah Binti Sharudin
Sahrom Bin Adam
Hazrina Binti Rashid
Farizan Bin Che Ani
Hj Mohd Najib Rais bin Mohd Noordin
Mohd Noordin bin Mohamood
Siti Aisyah binti Harun
Asnizad binti Abdul Wahab (Anta Farm)
Mohd Hatta bin Ali
Romaizi Mustafa
Zulfazli Bin Mat
Mohd Khairil bin Abd Rahim (Matkentoi)
Azmi bin Awang
Dr. Nur Azura Awang (UPM)
Wan Nur Asiah Wan Mohd Adnan (UPM)
Azlan Shah Mohamed Aris,
Mohd Taufik bin Hasan Saari
Murdipi Md Kasim
Muhammad Tareq Murdipi
Mohd Roslan Ibrahim
A.Rahman A.Hamid (Q'lulut)+
Mohd Rizduan b. Bahari
Mohd Suffian b. Abas
Mohammad Danish Akid

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

When Treasures Meet

We simply love having guests at the farm, sharing knowledge and experiences with them. Yesterday, 18 May 2016 was no exception, what more when our guests were mostly prominent senior citizens who have made major contributions to the society and country.
Our special guest was Datin Munira Salinger and her husband, the honourable Yg Bbhg. Datuk Professor Hj. Rudin Salinger, her sisters and friends. We were in awe that at her age, Datin Munira had driven all the way to Lurah Bilut from Putrajaya, and amazed that she had reached the farm without much trouble.
We were so humbled and honoured with their presence at our very modest farm, but like everyone else, they seem to love tasting the honey taken straight from the sacs. When asked how he felt about the honey, Datuk Prof. Rudin answered, "Wonderful! Just wonderful!"
Both Datuk Prof. Rudin and Datin Munira are great cooks, love nature and eating alfresco. Datin had brought with her lots of homemade goodies in her picnic basket, and we all thoroughly enjoyed a hearty breakfast.
Thank you once again for coming, Datin Munira, and for all the good wishes. We hope to see all of you again next season.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Faces to the Name

The Bilut Valley Bee Farm Team

Aniza, Aiman and Marzia

Marzia Mazlan, the co-owner of the company Trigona Gold Ventures which manages Bilut Valley Bee Farm is a graduate in Mass Communication. Typically, a young woman in her twenties like her who love fashion and cosmetics would opt for a glamourous career, what more in her field of studies. But her love for animals, nature and adventure reigned supreme and she surprised us when she chose  to work on the farm. She wasn't in the least bothered that she would get her skin dark or that she might get bitten by bugs. Snakes seen on the farm didn't deter her either, in fact she revelled in working in her straw hat and rubber boots.  

Marzia, which means the special one, lives up to her name.She is special in many ways, but the most evident is her ability to communicate with animals, her spontaneity and her sense of adventure. She is an expert in wet cupping, in which she would make light incisions on the skin and draw out blood using vacuum cups, and she has no qualms handling the blood in the cleaning process.

.Datin Aimi has been instrumental in the setting-up of Bilut Valley Bee Farm. She is also a co-owner of the company. We are so bleesed to have someone who believed in us when all we had was a dream. She is possibly the most benevolent person we have ever known; her sincerity and her positive outlook on people and life is simply inspirational. Her vivaciouness sets things in motion, and and she is loved by almost everyone who knows her.

Aiman has an engineering background and can be very creative and innovative. These traits are valuable in meliponiculture as this is a relatively new industry where trials and errors are still the name of the game. He manages the whole farm and his main concerns are primarily the well-being of the colonies, their hives and the toppings that are placed on top of the hives. This is the most crucial area and is not an easy task. He has become very knowledgeble in meliponiculture and he is mostly responsible for the almost 100% production rate achieved. His congeniality is such an asset to us, and we believe his new-found passion and commitment will take the company far. 

Mama loves to do everything on the farm - 
even sawing the logs.
Aniza had started to dream of her own bee farm when she learnt about the bees and their amazing behaviors at a seminar in 2010, organised by Universiti Sains Malaysia in Kelantan. An alternative medicine practitioner focussing on Islamic medicine, she prescribes honey as a remedy. But pure, raw honey is difficult to come by. Only between 10% to 20% of honey sold in the market is real honey - others are either adulterated or synthetic. With this in mind, she was determined to run her own farm, so she could be absolutely sure her patients are consuming the real stuff.

Equipped with an MBA and having worked overseas where she was in charge of multi-millon dollar projects, Fauziah brings invaluable knowledge on business and marketing.

Last but not least, there's Fauziah Shariif who has made quite a name for herself among the stingless beekeeper fraternity for her superb macro photography. But she has contributed much more than her images for Bilut Valley Bee Farm; her involvement can be said to be the main reason for the success we have achieved this far. Her invaluable knowledge and experience in Human Resource and Project Management has added a massive boost to our operations and production, besides her investment in the company.  She puts in a whole lot of work, time and effort  in her photogaphy, all in the name of education and knowledge. This gives her contentment and satisfaction. Fauziah, or Gee as she sometimes addresses herself, is a true gem.
Gee Shariff, Aniza and Marzia at the first Kelulut Expedition in Bukit Kor, Terengganu organised by Universiti Malaysia Terengganu

Monday, May 2, 2016

Magical Meliponine Honey

What makes meliponine honey possess such high medicinal and pharmaceutical properties?

Meliponines store their honey in honey pots made of propolis, a substance the bees produce from resin of selected trees and beeswax. Bee propolis is known to possess a high antioxidant content, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties.

The honey pots wrapped in propolis - a substance made of tree resin and beeswax.

In Islamic medicine, resin from trees is used as very potent medicines; three of the well-known ones being manna, frankincense (luban in Arabic) and myrrh (murr). They are resins from the trees Acacia senegal, Boswellia sacra and genus Commiphora respectively. These resins have been scientifically proven to have anti-cancer properties and a wide range of other medical benefits. Manna is said to be an excellent agent in repairing damaged kidneys.
Traces of propolis is present in raw, unfiltered meliponine honey thus multiplying the efficacy of this wonderful, amazing panacea.

FACT #2 
Meliponines are rather choosy in selecting flowers for their source of nectar, pollen and floral oils. Most of the flowers these bees choose to forage are edible, contain antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients which are so beneficial to our health and well-being. 

Biden pilosa flower

One of their favourites, Biden pilosa is widely used in Western traditional medicine as it is known to have antioxidant, antibacterial and antifungal properties.
Plants, when eaten directly, will take a few hours before it is digested and the benefits ingested into our body. But when we consume honey made by bees which had foraged on these plants, we are able to absorb the benefits within minutes. 

Among the flowers which possess health and medical benefits to us and which are favoured by the meliponines:
Honolulu creeper (Antigonon leptosus)
Biden pilosa
Cosmos sulphureus
Turnera ulmifolia
Billy goat weed (Ageratum conyzoids)
Japanese Rose (Portulaca grandiflora)
Misai Kuching (Orthosiphon stamineus)
Thai Basil (Ocimum basilicumvar thyrsiflora)

FACT #3 
Fructose and glucose content in meliponine honey is almost nil or negligable (see diagram below). This makes this delicious substance very suitable for diabetics not only as a sweetener but as an aid in controlling blood sugar levels in diabetic type 2. Recent studies have shown that meliponine honey effectively stabilises blood sugar.   
Credit to Honeygold Laboratory - Stingless Bee Lab for shating this diagram.

 FACT #4
Meliponines, or stingless bees as they are commonly known, are smaller and slimmer, thus enabling them to reach deep into the nectarines to gather more nectar rich in vitamins and minerals. They then process the nectar using their saliva and enzymes in their stomachs to produce the honey which is loaded with goodness. It has been witnessed that the nectar is brought to the hive and is passed on from one bee to another. This action is believed to be part of the complex manufacturing process where all the phytonutrients are broken down thus is easily absorbed into our body.
Meliponines are lesser known than honeybees (apis) but they are actually better pollinators.

Meliponines pick more pollen than normal honeybees, and traces of it is also found in the honey, adding even more vitamins, minerals and amino acids. This is why meliponine honey looks a little turbid compared to normal honey which is very clear. This distinction enables us to differentiate pure honey from normal honey and synthetic meliponine honey to a certain extent.

She collects pollen and puts it on her legs, then flies home fo send the pollen to be processed as food for the worker bees. The processed, fermented pollen is known as beebread and it is also stored in a resinuous pot.