“In the last few years, we have observed that wild honey collectors are collecting less and less amount of honey from the forest. We are trying to find the reasons,” Md Sayed Ali, divisional forest officer of Sundarbans West Zone, told the Dhaka Tribune.
According to the Forest Department, a total of 885.37 quintals – one quintal equals to 100kgs – of wild honey has been collected this year from Burigoalini range in West Sundarbans, the largest honey collecting zone in the mangrove forest.
The amount was 1,030.12 quintals in 2014-15 and 1,082 quintals in 2013-14.
Forest officials believe that commercial honey cultivation outside the forest, mobile phone towers inside the forest and increasing salinity are the major reasons why the volume of wild honey production has dropped in the Sundarbans, which is discouraging Mawalis from going into the forest for honey collection.
The period of April-June is considered to be the natural period of honey collection in the Sundarbans, said forest officials. The Forest Department issues permit to Mawalis during that period only to enter the mangrove forest and collect honey.
Permit for a boat that can carry seven to nine people requires a fee of around Tk7,000, on condition that each of the riders will collect no more than 75kg of wild honey. The Forest Department starts issuing the permit – valid for a month – on April 1 each year.
There are some locals who enter the forest illegally to collect forest resources, including wild honey.
Pavel Partha, an ecology and biodiversity researcher, believes that the change in the pattern of flowering in the Sundarbans may have caused the reduction in honey volume.
Citing his working experience in the forest for the last 10 years, he said: “The government should move the honey collecting period forward by 15 days as wild bees are starting to collect honey earlier than the usual time.”
Sabed Ali, a Mawali from Datinakhali area in Burigoalini, agreed with Pavel.
“We have been experiencing some problems in collecting wild honey in the last few years. We are getting less amount of honey than usual in the government-sanctioned honey collection season,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
Asked about commercial honey cultivation in the area, Divisional Forest Officer Sayed said the Forest Department was planning to take measures aiming to control private ventures outside the forest.
When asked Pavel said: “Many plants in the mangrove forest are dependent on the bees for pollination. If wild honey is not collected on a regular basis, the bees won’t collect anymore honey, which will hamper the pollination as well as the bees’ natural disposition.
Around 16,000 maunds – 1 maund equals to 40 kgs – of honey and beeswax are extracted from the entire Sundarbans annually.
Around 400,000-500,000 people living in the region are hugely dependent on the forest for its resources like honey, fish, shrimp fry, crabs, gol pata or nipa palm leaves, timber and others.
Of them, around 80% visit the forest on a regular basis to earn their livelihood.