The months of April, May and June are considered the natural period for honey collection in the mangrove forest
The collection of wild honey from the Sundarbans has fallen so much over the past few years, traditional honey collectors known as the “Mawali” are no longer motivated to enter the forest in the allotted time.
According to the Forest Department, a total of 723 quintal of wild honey was collected from the Burigoalini range in Sundarbans West Zone last year.
The range is considered to be the largest honey collection zone in the mangrove forest.
From the same range, 885 quintal was collected in 2015-16, 1030 quintal in 2014-15, and 1082 quintal in 2013-14.
“In the last few years, those who are entering the forest at the government declared time, are getting less amount of honey,” Sirajul Islam, a Mawali from Datinakhali area under the Burigoalini range, told the Dhaka Tribune.
Forest officials have blamed the reduced volume of honey on rising water salinity levels and the construction of mobile phone towers inside the forest.
Experts believe the changing of the flowering time period during the natural collection months of April, May and June could also be a factor.
The forest department only issues permits to the Mawali people for entering and collecting honey from the Sundarbans during this fixed timeframe.
“The government should shift the official time period for honey collection ahead by 15 days, as honey production has been beginning earlier than usual,” Pavel Partha, an ecology and biodiversity researcher with 12 years of experience working in Sunderbans, said.
“Many of the plants in the mangrove forest are dependent on honey for pollination. If the honey is not collected on a regular basis, the bees will become naturally lazy, and this could halt their movement as well as the pollination of plants.”
According to a recent government study titled “Assessment of Sea Level Rise and Vulnerability in the Coastal Zone of Bangladesh through Trend Analysis,” the water level in the Ganges tidal floodplain increased by 7-8mm per year over the last 30 years.
At the same time, it increased by 6-9mm per year in the Meghna Estuarine floodplain, and by 11-20mm a year in the Chittagong coastal plain area over the same period. The increasing sea level has led to salt encroaching further inland.
Data from the Soil Resource Development Institute (SRDI) shows that total area affected by salt in the coastal region increased by 26% from 1973 to 2009, with 3.5% of the increase taking place in the last nine years.
Areas affected by high salinity are primarily located in the southwestern and central zones of the coastal region.
“We have seen that less honey is being collected in recent years, and are trying to address the issue,” Md Bashirul-Al-Mamun, divisional forest officer of Sundarbans West Zone, said.
“Increasing salinity may have reduced the flowering of mangrove trees and led to the reduction in honey collected.”
The permit for a boat carrying up to nine people for honey collection requires a fee of around Tk7,000, with each person allowed to collect up to 75kg of honey. The forest department issues the permit from April 1 each year.
All of the teams that apply get permission to roam the entire forest and collect honey for a month. Apart from collectors with permission, many also enter the forest illegally in order to collect various resources, including honey.
According to the Forest Department, about 16,000 maunds (1 maund=37.32kg) of honey and honeycombs are extracted from the Sundarbans annually.
Around 500,000 people living on the periphery of the forest are hugely dependent on the forest for resources such as honey, fish, shrimp fry, crabs, Nipah Palm (Golpata), and wood.