Three honey-producing communities in Kratie, Stung Treng and Preah Vihear provinces received certificates of compliance in Phnom Penh on August 17 after demonstrating strict adherence to Cambodia Wild Honey (Khmum Prey Honey) Protocols and Standards.

The certification was awarded to the members of the community-based honey enterprises after two visits by experts and an external audit team funded by the USAID Greening Prey Lang and Natural Wild Co, which provided technical advice and peer support.

Part of the Cambodia Federation for Bee Conservation and Community-based Wild Honey Enterprise (CBHE), their high-standard wild honey – teuk khmum prey in Khmer – has been certified as harvested with sustainable, authentic, chemical-free and traceable methods.

The CBHE, formed in 2010 as Cambodia’s first national wild honey network, is made up of 16 groups comprising 780 honey harvesters from six provinces across the Kingdom – Mondulkiri, Preah Vihear, Kratie, Ratanakkiri, Stung Treng and Koh Kong.

Sreng Chhunlang, cashier at the Samaki Phoum Krala Peas Natural Wild Honey Community Enterprise in Stung Treng province, said their honey has a unique golden hue due to the type of flowering plants in the area.

She expressed her happiness at receiving the certification for their wild honey after having worked on the project for some three years.

“I collect honey and then package it to look appealing. Before packaging, we have to clean the filters and tanks with hot water and let it dry naturally in the sunlight, according to proper hygiene standards. It’s not so difficult, but we have to be careful,” she told The Post.

A certificate was also given to Choun Choub, team leader at the Dei Phnom Chheu Krahorm Wild Honey community enterprise in Preah Vihear province – which is famous for its sweet honey, with a light aroma and dark red colour, unique from other provinces.

“I am very happy that NTFP-EP and NatureWild came to promote and instruct us in how to produce honey according to the best technical standards, and for us to now receive certification.

“Our community members strive to collect wild honey according to the highest standards for selling at the best price in the market, and with the certificate of compliance, customers will have full confidence when they buy from us,” Choub said.

‘Incentives for good practice’

Among the three members who received certification, the Veal Kanseng wild honey collection group in Kratie province joined the CBHE in 2012, according to Chea Chann Than, their marketing vice-manager.

“I am a honey collector, and it is good to see that this organisation supports the collection of wild honey. I am glad that we have received certification for producing high-standard honey. Our community will now have better living standards,” he said.

Khorn Sokhom, the president of the CBHE, and himself a honey harvester and trader from Mondulkiri, expressed his enthusiasm for the expansion of the Khmum Prey label, which translates as “Wild bee”.

“Our protocols and standards for sustainable wild honey collection have been maintained and strengthened,” he said.

Eric Guerin, a French biologist specialised in Asian native honey bee conservation and sustainable beekeeping, hailed the awarding of the certification.

“The trust-based relationships on which the wild honey groups and the honey value chain were established can still be seen throughout the value chain.

“Presenting these CBHEs with their deserved certificates of compliance will give them the recognition and incentives for good practice that they deserve,” Guerin said.

CBHE marketing intermediaries were established with assistance from partners NTFP-EP Cambodia and NatureWild, along with a collective brand and the standardisation of wild honey collection techniques.

Sustainable harvesting

Men Sokheng, community enterprise development officer at NTFP-EP, said the certification committee first looked at where the honey is harvested.

“The committee begins by gathering information about the area the honey is found, the number of nests and the species of tree.

“It then, while wearing gloves, uses dehydration equipment to rate the quality of wild honey,” Sokheng said.

The standardised collection of Cambodian wild honey has three stages, he explained.

“Before collecting, the equipment our communities use to collect the honey must be prepared to be hygienic, and the collectors themselves and their clothes must be clean, and they must not be wearing perfume or scent,” Sokheng told The Post.

During collection, he explained, only smoke can be used, with chemicals or fire strictly prohibited, and harvesting must be done sustainably.

“During honey harvesting, the communities use smoke to calm the bees. When they’re up [in the trees collecting the honey] they take only 80 per cent of the honeycomb and leave the other 20 per cent for the bees for their young and for more eggs to hatch in the hive.

“On its return from the forest, the honey must be filtered. The honeycomb is kept in clean plastic bags, in line with quality and hygiene principles, and has to be cut into small pieces to keep from souring or fermenting,” Sokheng said.

Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra said that as of May, there were 182 protected area communities in Cambodia, with 55,446 families in 335 villages across 108 communes in 16 provinces participating in the management and conservation of 30,963ha of forest land.

“What we have all done with the creation of new employment options to improve the lives of people in the community is a step in the right direction, and comes as part of effective solution strategies for the conservation of Cambodia’s natural resources,” he said.

According to the 2019 UN Human Development Report for Cambodia in 2014, it was estimated that around 31,000 rural Cambodian households were involved in wild honey collection. These activities contributed at least 40 per cent of their income.

The total national market of wild honey is 500 tonnes, with the high-value segment and tourist markets estimated at 55 to 75 tonnes per year, equivalent to $3.2 million annually.