Safe Harvests for Honey Hunters

In the peatlands of Central Kalimantan, the forest flowers twice a year, usually in June and November. At this time, a group of 10 honey-hunters from Tumbang Nusa will go around the forest together, looking for wild beehives to harvest.


Madi (40 years old) has been collecting forest honey for many years. He says that honey bees (Apis dorsata) usually nest in the high branches of the ‘Rengas’ tree (Gluta renghas) with their enormous honeycombs usually hanging about 10 meters above the ground. To reach them, he hammers long nails into the tree to make footholds for climbing.


“We use nails to help us climb up to the top of the tree, and there is no safety equipment,” explained Madi. He admits this is very dangerous, as not a few of his fellow villagers have broken bones, and some have even died, by falling while collecting honey.


Madi’s group generally obtains about 42 kilograms of honeycomb from one month of searching and harvesting in the forest. And back in the village, the honey traders will pay IDR 100,000 for one kilogram of forest honey. “After deducting the boat rental fees and other costs, our profits are divided equally among all group members,” explained Madi.

Climbing the Rengas tree using nails

The ‘Tikung’ Method

To reduce the deadly risk of falling while harvesting honey, our livelihoods researchers decided to introduce a safer method. Using the Indigenous Technical Knowledge (ITK) approach, the Yayasan Tambuhak Sinta (YTS) foundation invited a honey hunter from West Kalimantan to discuss the use of the ‘Tikung’ method with the Pilang community. And after learning about the various steps involved, Madi’s group agreed to try it.

Loading the canoes with selected materials

Installing the ‘Tikung’

On installation day, seven canoes (klotoks) were docked together on the banks of the Peluh River. Each one was being loaded with heavy poles, from 3 to 5 meters long. Madi explained that his group had just finished a survey of the forest. “We looked for trees with existing beehives. We found several suitable locations.” He said it was a special day for the group, as they were keen to claim their new harvest sites in the forest.

Unloading the materials at the site

The canoes stopped at the first installation site. Madi and the villagers carried five heavy branches up to a 10-meter-high Rengas tree. “Look up”, said Madi, pointing to the top of the Rengas tree, “There is a big beehive up there”.

Installing the materials at the site

The heavy poles were installed beneath the selected trees to create artificial sites upon which new natural beehives can form. Once the honey bees (Apis dorsata) have been lured down to the Tikung, their honey will be much easier for the group to access.

The installation requires careful planning and forethought

The villagers nailed the logs at a height of 3 meters above the ground. Next, the branches were smeared with a mixture of honey and beeswax to invite the bees to come down and nest. “This mixture needs to be smeared upon the Tikung every three days,” said Madi.

The group now holds customary claim to the harvest site

A total of nine Tikung were installed that day. Once the bees have made their new nests, each site will be producing high-quality honey within three to four months.

GK researchers enjoyed a field visit to the site

In October, YTS facilitated a site visit during Gambut Kita’s annual project meeting in Central Kalimantan. Professor Acep Akbar, a forest and fire researcher from the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN) said he appreciated seeing the installation. “Having these ‘Tikung’ will encourage the local people to protect the forest,” he said, “as they will protect their source of honey production”. He also added that forest honey has a high market value, providing a good source of income for local people.