It is rare to find an Omani house without Omani honey. More than its use as food and additives, majority of Omanis also believe in its power to cure different diseases. Locally produced honey conforms to international quality specification. Over the years, it has posed a big threat to imported honey as year by year, it has been attaining a higher rank in terms of quality. The local demand for Sultanate-produced honey resulted in its growing popularity across e-marketing platforms. With government support like the annual Omani Honey Market, more new markets and opportunities are opening for local honey producers.
Al Rustaq located in the governorate of Al Batinah South is home to some of the prolific honey producers in the country today. The wilayat has all the right ingredients for bees to thrive — from wide fields and farmlands, to appropriate climate, to the wide variety and availability of pollen and even the growing passion amongst young producers.
Sulaiman bin Hamad al Muqbali of Wadi Bani Ghafir is one of those who has grown to love caring for bees and harvesting their by-product.
“I started breeding honeybees since I was 12 years old,” he shared.
He narrated that he was walking in the mountain once when he found a beehive hanging on the side of a tree.
“This type of bees does not inhabit trees. So I moved it to the trunk of the palm and began caring for it. After a year, the beehive became nine hives. The number of bees also started to grow and because there was a wide pasture where they can get pollen from, I did not have to transfer their location to another place,” he shared.
“As I kept on caring for them, I gained more and more experience on how to look out for their needs. The number of hives grew and grew every year,” he said.
With daily practice, Al Muqbali knew when a bee is sick and when is the time for him to feed them. He also discovered that the weather changes — from hot to cold affects them and thus has been one of the tough challenges they have to face.
“During the hot and dry season, we have to move the beehives to places where the heat is tolerable for them. We have to provide them water and we also have to constantly monitor their hives spraying water to make sure that they don’t get dried up and therefore hard for them to move inside. We also have to figure means on how to help them regulate the temperature inside their homes,” he added.
“In cold seasons, we have to transfer them to places where they will enjoy the sunlight. They also have to be protected from the cold and they should also have access to nectar and pollens otherwise, we have to think on how to provide them with alternatives,” he said.
Thus emerged what is known as mobile apiculture— which means searching for appropriate places for the bees especially in terms of temperature, and the availability of sources of water, nectar, and pollen.
Types of bees
Khalefa bin Sulayem al Nasri, who lives in Eeni, also grew up around bees and producing honey has become a hobby and eventually, a career for him.
He shared that there are two types of honey bees in the Sultanate. The first is what the locals call Abu Twiq or wild bees which provides the best quality of honey in the market today.
“This kind of bee is difficult to domesticate because it moves around looking for the ideal conditions. They are very picky and always considers the availability of pastures and the place’s temperature. They produce honey in small quantities and they usually make hives in difficult places,” he shared.
Al Nasri said that due to scarcity, marketing price for this kind of honey is often high.
He also added that although the bees are constantly on the move, producers or harvesters have become successful in breeding them and following them wherever they move to collect their honey.
“The second type of bees are the locally domesticated bees which are usually larger in size and prefers breeding grounds like the trunks of date palms,” he shared.
Regardless of the kind of bees, there is always danger in getting stung. Al Nasri shared that once the bees feel the danger, they usually fight back and their sting really hurts and it stays quite for a long time.
“While some clinics all over the world specialise in bee sting, it’s usually harder here in Oman and people in the country also have less tolerance for bee stings,” he noted.
“Also, protective clothing has been developed, as well as, some calming tools such as smokers that belch out natural odorless smoke that creates a barrier for bees to attack,” he said. He added, “the smoke was designed to calm bees and give them time to harvest the honey.”
Be cautious when
If you buy Omani honey, you will find that that the prices vary. Al Muqbali shared that the prices depend on several factors — the purity of the honey, the source, the production cost as well as the quantity produced.
He also shared that honey is also named according to where the honey was collected or what type of honey they are. Al Rustaq, Al Musbali said, produced three types of honey, “but the finest and most expensive type is what we call Al Smar honey (or Al Burm) which is usually produced between April and May.”
‘It’s the best quality honey one can get,” he said.
Al Nasri, on the other hand, pointed out that not all honey sold in the market are natural. He warned that many nowadays already have unnatural additives like industrial flavouring and colouring.
“Some honey are also made from processed sugar,” he said.
Al Nasri said that for average consumers, it’s hard to distinguish the processed ones from the original ones.
“If you devote a little time to study it, you would know based on the taste, colour, texture, humidity and smell,” he said.
For Al Muqbali, he doesn’t solely rely on his honey farm for a living.
“Nowadays, I consider the breeding of honeybees as a hobby more than a source of livelihood because at present, with drought and reduction of pastures, the maintenance and production is costing a lot of money especially in the feeding of bees.”
“In the last 10 years, pastures have begun to decrease due to less rainfall, so I suffer a lot because I have to transfer the bees from place to another for feeding. Diseases among bees are also on the rise due to the reduction of pastures and bringing along of imported bees,” he said.
As for Al Nasri, he shared that The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries has made significant progress in honey production. He explained that tools, machinery and equipment that is suitable for Oman’s environment and the volatile climate have been introduced in order to ensure continuity and expansion and maximize the economic return of honey bee breeding.
“The Ministry also issued laws and legislation to protect Omani honey bees and enable beekeepers to practice their work,” he said.
RUQAYA AL KINDI