Turning honey into money

October 19, 2016

By Sander Van de Moortel, originally published at ICRAF’s Agroforestry World Blog
La Ode Ali Said showcasing Southeast Sulawesi forest honey at the Pekan Panen Raya Nusantara 2015 exhibition in Jakarta

La Ode Ali Said showcasing Southeast Sulawesi forest honey at the Pekan Panen Raya Nusantara 2015 exhibition in Jakarta

Concluding five years of AgFor, a multilateral project aimed at promoting agroforestry practices in Indonesia’s exotic Sulawesi region, participating farmers are now starting enterprises to process and market their products beyond their own village.

Funded by the Government of Canada and established by ICRAF The World Agroforestry Centre in April 2001, the AgFor project has been actively promoting agroforestry technologies in Sulawesi, an island in eastern Indonesia. Generally deemed more environmentally sustainable than monoculture, agroforestry is more suitable to farmers’ conditions providing multiple products and lower risks. AgFor also helps farmers to bring their products to market and sell them at a premium, as a reward for their investment in sustainable management.

While the high-value commodities such as black pepper and cacao are readily bought by traders and global concerns, some products are not marketed in the mainstream, such as sagu flour, palm sugar, forest honey and compost. At the behest of the farmers in the participating farmer groups, the AgFor team helped out with business plans, packaging, labelling and marketing.

Who says honey doesn’t grow on trees?

Meet the honey hunters of Uluiwoi, a subdistrict of East Kolaka who traditionally scout the forests for honeycombs produced by the wild honeybee or Apis dorsata. When they find such a golden blob, sometimes hanging as high as 40 m above the ground off a tree branch, the daredevil leader or sopir (driver) clambers up the trees, smokes out the bees, and cuts down the honeycomb. Back on the ground, the pasoema, as the honey hunters are called in local Kolaka language, squeeze out the honey along with eggs and pupae into used water bottles. The resulting honey has all kinds of hygiene and quality problems and a 250 ml bottle sells for no more than USD 1.2. A meagre return on investment to say the least, knowing that groups may spend up to a week in the forest and some climbers never return.

“We thought they could do better,” says AgFor’s marketing facilitator La Ode Ali Said. “We identified a more sustainable and hygienic method which involved carefully cutting the honey bag to slowly drain the golden liquid. It is then filtered through a fine mesh, resulting in a very pure honey.”

Premium bottles of forest honey

Bottles of premium forest honey

The AgFor team, for this component reinforced by CIFOR, Komunitas Teras and Yascita, invited a marketing expert from Hasanuddin University in Makassar to train the villagers in marketing and entrepreneurship. From the training, a cooperative of honey hunters from four villages was born, which buys drained honey from the pasoema. “The honey is now sold in more hygienic packaging with attractive labelling,” says Mahrizal, provincial coordinator of AgFor’s Southeast Sulawesi activities. “The reward is a higher price for the product.”

A 250 ml bottle of the cooperative’s honey now sells for IDR 50 000 (USD 5) in the provincial capital of Kendari. “It’s such an enormous success,” says Kusman who heads the cooperative. “Our entire production of 650 kg sold out well before the start of the next season.”

The AgFor team are now looking to make the product even more attractive by improving the quality. “If we manage to lower the water content below the current 20%, we may one day be able to achieve what our colleagues have done with the Kanoppi project in Sumbawa,” says Mahrizal. Sumbawa honey currently trades for three to four times the price.

Another AgFor project brought organic palm sugar from East Kolaka to the market

Another AgFor project brought organic palm sugar from East Kolaka to the market

Flourishing sagu business

In March and July 2016, AgFor and the local government’s trade and cooperative agency held a series of marketing and entrepreneurship workshops for six farmer groups. The training included basic marketing theory followed by a creative component in which the farmers were encouraged to draw up a fictive business plan for products from their farms. The Mepokoaso farmer group from Tobimaeta village in Kendari district saw an opportunity for marketing its surplus of sagu.

Sagu, a white substance procured from the stems of the sagu palm, is an important commodity in parts of Sulawesi. “It is normally consumed when it is still wet, but when dried it can be sold as flour for use in pastries, drinks, soups, and for other cooking purposes,” explains La Ode Ali Said.

The farmers traditionally sun-drying the wet sagu on tarpaulin which was curled up at the edges to keep out the dust. AgFor marketing facilitators helped farmers created improved processing and packaging techniques and an attractive label. The sagu is now sold beyond the village’s direct surroundings in carefully sealed plastic bags of 500 g and 1 kg. In the future, when production is up and more stable, the label will feature a complete nutritional value chart, which will allow it to be sold in supermarkets around the province and beyond.

Labelled package of Sagu flour

Labelled package of Sagu flour

Organic fertilizer and palm sugar

Supported by Operasi Wallacea Terpadu (OWT), AgFor held several workshops on the production of organic fertilizer. These quickly started to bear fruit, with many farmers in Potuho Jaya village in South Konawe district producing their own compost from organic waste, stems, leaves, and goat or cow manure. “Initially we only sold our compost in and around the village,” says Mr Jingun who leads the Potuho Jaya farming group, “but as demand grew from Kendari and several of the surrounding dragonfruit and ginger-producing villages, we saw an opportunity to expand.”

Acknowledging the benefits of organic over chemical fertilizer, village heads and ginger processing companies alike encouraged farmers to purchase from the Potuho Jaya compost producers. The AgFor project team helped out with the labelling, and provided a machine that took care of the packaging and sealing. The village now sells in a wider area, producing up to 2–3 tonnes of finely ground compost per production cycle. Selling at IDR 50 000 per bag of 30 kg, the village now runs a profit of 1 million Rupiah (USD 100) per batch of 1.5 tonnes.

organic fertilizer

Kusuma, head of OWT, helps farmers of Potuho Jaya sealing a bag of their very own organic fertilizer


The AgFor alliance

Agroforestry and Forestry (AgFor) in Sulawesi: Linking Knowledge to Action (AgFor) is funded 2012–2016 by the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada and the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry. After establishing itself in South and Southeast Sulawesi, operations in Gorontalo Province began in early 2014. In its implementation, AgFor works closely with the local government and is led by the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), with support from its partners, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and local organisations in each province: Balang and Universitas Hasanuddin in South Sulawesi; Operasi Wallacea Terpadu (OWT), Komunitas Teras and Yascita in Southeast Sulawesi, Japesda and Forum Komunitas Hijau (FKH) in Gorontalo. The project seeks to make agroforestry a truly sustainable practice, by enhancing existing practices, inspiring innovation, disseminating information, encouraging enabling policy, and by ensuring that the reward is worth the investment risk.