Sunday, November 28, 2010

Tracking Wild Honey Bees in Tropical Forest

I reached Kampung Jejak Seberang, a remote village in Kuala Pilah, about 11.30 am on Nov 28, 2010. The purpose was to meet Zailani or Zai, an experience wild-bee’s honey collector in the area and to make an arrangement with him to collect samples of wild-bee's honey in a few locations within the region for a research. I knew Zai about ten years back when I took a group of students to make observation on how rural people harvest the bee's honey in the forest.  I remembered  that we spend  six hours  at night ten years ago  in the forest at Sungai Talam, not far from the village.  We observed how  a group of village people lead by Zai  managed to bring down wild-bee's honey from a  25 meter-tall tualang tree.
When I met Zai, he did not recognize me since it was a long time ago we met.  Then I mentioned to him, “Do you remember that I and a group of students went with you to collect  bee's  honey in the forest, and throughout that night we heard the continuous roaring of a tiger not far from us?”  Zai said, “Yes!  You are a professor from UTM...“.  
Backdrop view of Kampung Jejak Seberang

He mentioned that the place was at Sungai Talam Forest not far from the village. It was very rare to encounter a tiger in the forest and that’s why he can easily recalled back the experience when I mentioned it. Zai said that the bee’s season normally started from February and ended sometime in August. This was the period when many trees were flowering, including fruits trees (such as durian, mango, rambutan), wild flower trees and also rubber trees. He said bees take honey from any flowers that are not poisonous. He said wild bees collect honey from 99 flowers of different kinds. He also mentioned on three different species of bees, which he called Tampoi (yellow in color), Nyenyolong (a bit long), and Beruang (black color). The first kind (tampoi) normally produces very little honey in the hive and not worth the effort to collect it. The other two species have lots of honey.
Zai was born in Java in 1944, came to the Malaysia in 1969, and settled down in the village in 1976 when married to the local. He has 9 children, in which three are married and the youngest one aged 17. He began collecting wild-bee's honey when he was 20s, but was more actively involved starting from 1981 at the age of 37. But collecting honey is his occasional job; the main jobs are tapping rubber trees and production of brown sugar from enau palm. Sometimes he was hired to do other kinds of village works such as chopping down tree and clearing of farm land. 

Brown sugar from enau palm; the juice collected from the flower stalk of the palm is boiled for 6 hours until it almost dry; a little coconut powder is added  to turn it into a solid form
The flower stalk has to be knocked with a stick/hard object about 30 minutes each day for about a week before it is ready to be cut and produce juicy liquid for a month. Each day it  could produce about four liters of juice.

Zai ‘harvest’ wild-bee's honey during the night. First he has to search for the bees hive in the forest or sometime gets information from friends including Orang Asli who work in the forest. When the honey is matured to be collected Zai will call a few friends to prepare for the harvest which include:
Cutting bamboo to make spikes/nails for the trail on the tree.
Prepare a bundle of dry coconut leaves for making fire to remove/clear bees from hive.
The final task is to cut the portion of the hive that contain honey into a container and bring it down using a rope.

The most tedious one is to make trail on the tree trunk by hammering the bamboo spikes into the trunk and climbing the tree which may be as high as 25 meters and could be towards the further part of the tree branch.
Upon reaching the hive, the bundle of dry leaves is put on fire and when the leaves is shook  the red dust of fire will fall down  to the ground. All the bees at the hive will fly towards the red dust of fire leaving the hive safe for removing the honey. This work well when the sky is dark. For instant when there is moon light,  as what I experienced ten years ago we had to wait till late mid-night for the moon to disappear, then the burning could begun.
 According to Zai wild-bee's honey now very difficult to get because forest has been cleared for palm oil plantation. In addition there are many collectors such as among Orang Asli who used to harvest the honey during daytime and used insect's spray to kill the bees before they can safely collect the honey in the hive. This method could make bees extinct or non sustainable.
At the end of the meeting we decided sometimes in March 2011 for the bee's tracking to collect samples of honey for research in lab… to be continued…

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Yangon Experience

The news of the release of  the Myanmar’s democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Nov 13,2010 urged me to write something about my experience in conducting a study in Yangon  a few years back.  I  still can recall my memory on my experiences  encountered  with the people of Yangon and the military ruled government. 
Pagoda- landmark of Yangoon City

Informal economic activities were common on Yangoon streets

At the fringe of Yangon
Sometime in 2004,  I was appointed as one of the consultants to prepare Yangon Region Strategic Development Plan under the auspice of Malaysian Government, related to the service  as agreed under  Technical Corporation. My task was to look into demography and human resource and I visited twice to Yangon city to collect information and make presentation of the study.
 My first visit to Yangon was in October 2004.  I visited a few government departments including Yangon Municipality, Statistics Department,   Ministry of Labor, and Economic Planning Division. In the Statistics Department I met a few staffs who graduated from ANU the same school where I obtained my MA in Demography. Information was difficult to obtain not only because of the strict bureaucratic procedures but also there were no much information available.  Under the junta rule, the country economic progress was slow and sanctions imposed by the western governments limit international trades and foreign investments.  Due to the financial limitation faced by the government, no population census was carried out since the last one in 1980. After this period only limited surveys were carried out under UNDP and the basic statistics on population were based on estimate.

Yangon is the capital city of Myanmar with population about 4.35 million in 2005. We were told that there were a million more people who commuted into Yangon during daytime earning their living in the city. What surprised me when first arrived in the city was that too many informal traders on the streets, selling varieties of goods from second hand books to painting, foods, fruits, vegetable, apparel to telephone services and etcetera.   We can see many people walking on the streets. Busses ,vans and train were main modes of travel, with few private cars. Since utilization of public transport was high (model split about 85 percent ratio public to private vehicle), the problem of traffic congestion was less severe, but at particular junctions on main roads in the city. Many people male and female wore sarong. People were generally looking thin and fit reflecting the difficulty of earning a living in the city. Another thing that surprised me was that I could see many Buddhist monks wearing the orange-garment in the streets. In my mind it seemed  that Yangon  could be the centre for Buddhism,  similar to Mecca for the Islam. In fact there were many big temples  in the city which  attract tourists. 

Large statue  in the temple
During my second visit in September 2005, after presentation on the progress report (interim), I took a taxi to the fringe of Yangon to look into the rural area. I visited a temple in the outskirt of the city and a school. The temple was well maintain and taking care of.  It seemed that people put a lot of efforts and sacrifice to religion and the teaching  activities as could be seen from the gathering of people there  and reflected in the physical development as well . But the government school was  poor and lack of facilities.  Houses in the villages at the fringe of Yangon were small and in poor condition, village roads were paved but lack of maintenance. 
But Myanmar was endowed with many kinds of minerals. They are rich in gold, copper, tin, iron, jade and stones used for jewelry.  But need to be careful when buying  jewelry in the market, particularly gold jewelry- a lot of fake! 
Primary School at the fringe of Yangoon City

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Field visit - Desa Sidomulyo in Indonesia

The visit  to Desa Sidomulyo was arranged after the Conference in Semarang on Nov 2010. I went to Semarang with Yusof Ahmad on Nov 8, and considered lucky since on that particular day Air Asia managed to fly to Solo after canceling all the flight to Solo, Yogyakarta and Bandung on Nov 6 and  7, due to Mt Merapi eruption which contaminated the sky with volcanic ash.  On approaching Solo, I could see the effect of the volcanic ash where the sky was hazy and could not see anything far beyond, although on the ground it seemed to be cleared. That could be the reason for the cancellation of the flights from Nov 9 onward.
The conference (The first International Conference on Regional Development: Vulnerability, resilience and Sustainability) started on Nov 9, and I was asked to be a moderator for the plenary session in the morning and the next day presented a paper on Regional Development in Malaysia. 
Photograph session at the Conference

There were a wide variety of papers ranges from outlining the concepts of sustainable development to detail studies on specific topics at regional and local levels.  Disaster management seemed to be popular topics presented by a number of participants. There were a few good papers but overall mixture of focus between regional and local development.  However, sustainable development seemed to be receiving more attention by academics and practitioners in Indonesia. The occurrence of frequent disasters that  had caused devastating effects to the property and life of the society as well as  pressure on limited  resources could trigger increased awareness and alert on issues related to sustainability.  
Me, Pak Agung, Prof. Wawoeroentoe (left back) Dr David Wadley (behind)
We visited Desa Sidomulyo in Demak district on Nov 11, after meeting with Drs Agus Suryono and officials at Badan Penelitian dan Pengembangan Provinsi Java Tengah in Semarang.   In Demak we also met officials of Kabupaten Office .
Desa Sidomulyo- jambu air planted in the economic cluster concept
 Desa Sidomulyo is basically located on low land area; paddy is the main crop but due to economic cluster initiative the villagers had decided   to plant jambu air as a new crop along with paddy.    We can see jambu air everywhere, in the house compounds, along village streets, river banks, irrigation canals and on the bounds of the paddy fields.  
Jambu  air  are also planted in the paddy field

The houses looked beautiful, the floor a bit up from the ground with pillars placing on small foundation blocks. The traditional Javanese design of the house used local materials- wooded structure, and mud-tile roof. Village road mostly unpaved, with holes patching the   muddy surfaces. 
Traditional house at the village
Planting jambu air can provide good income to the village people, the price normally maintain around   Rupiah 6000 (RM2.50) per kg. The main challenge is marketing, need to send to cities soon after harvest since it can last only three days if left expose but a few days longer if properly wrap and store in cool temperature. So far it has not yet penetrates international market. Jambu air tree produce fruit twice per year (November/Mei) and a matured jampu tree (about 6 years old) can produce about 70 kg of fruits each season.  
Jambu air-  sweet- juicy, soft and crunchy
In Indonesia the  economic forums are the platforms for farmers to meet and co-operative. Problems were discussed and some of the important decision were made during the meeting.
irrigation canal in the village

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Exploring the strategic minds of the rural Malaysians- The Village Action Plan Experiences

My best contribution to the development of rural area so far is through the ‘Village Action Plan’ initiatives. When I was appointed as member of advisory committee of the Institute for Rural Advancement (INFRA), from 2007-2009, I was asked to prepare a module for training the village people, in particular the JKKK and their representatives, to prepare ‘Village Action Plan’.  The Village Action Plan is a planning document which contains statements about problems and the apparent development potential of a village, its priorities, and objectives, and the preferred development proposals in the form of projects, and programmes to achieve the development objectives of the village. The document also has maps, and diagrams to support and clarify the proposals together with justifications of proposals, the preferred time frame of implementation and cost.
Village Action Plan launched by PM, Jan, 2009
We did pioneer projects of 17 villages including one each in Sabah and Sarawak. I personally involved in facilitating the workshops in 11 villages and based on the experiences  we came out with a manual which explain step-by-step on  how to conduct  workshop  in a village for the preparation of  the village action plan. The Village Action Plan was later officially  launched by PM (Tun Abdullah) for  national adoption in January, 2009. 

Welcome to Sabah-'Sumazau Dance'
The  planning approach of the village action plan is to enable active participation of the village people in bringing out experiences, ideas and detail actions for the development of their villages. In each villages we targeted around 20-40 people to participate (depending on the population size of the village). Interestingly, and as expected, we found that the village people were able to express clearly their needs and aspirations. The diverse ranges of  knowledge available   among the participants, especially knowledge acquired through their life experiences, were useful in the process of the identification of problems, potentials, priorities and development proposals for village development. 
My best experiences were conducting workshops in Sabah and Sarawak. In Sabah, Kampung Talantang of Marudu districts was selected for the pioneer project in August, 2008. It was based on my recommendation, since a few years before my students and me visited the village for an academic assignment in which we stayed  at the village for three nights.  The villagers belong to the Kadazan Dusun ethnic group, majority were Christian with a few Muslim families. Many were engaged in paddy cultivation on the low land  but a few did have land in the hilly area planted with rubber, fruits or cash crops.
The Talantang Village-Kadazan Dusun
A team of  16 people, including three from UTM, David Preston and Rosemary from Oxford, three INFRA officials in Bangi, three INFRA officials in Sabah and three camera crews visited the village. My UTM team and INFRA officials assisted in facilitating the workshop and input on basic understanding of planning and running of workshop was given by me since I was the one who prepare the module. INFRA did engaged consultant to make video to be used for training  later.
Workshop participants and facilitators

Beautiful view of River flowing through Talantang village

The workshop was conducted in a  village community hall. All together 35 village people participated in the workshop  representing various background, including farmer, members of village committee, Church, women, youth and teacher. Workshop sessions run  smoothly for two days, with discussion in  a large group in the first two sessions to come up with problems, potentials and  visions. The next  two sessions the participants were divided into four smaller groups to discuss development proposals and a detail project each with costing.
Active participation of the village people during a workshop session in Talantang
In Sarawak, an Iban Long House in Lundu was selected. UTM team, INFRA officials and camera crews attended.  We stayed at the long house for two nights. The exercise was similar except this time the workshop was conducted at the corridor/balcony of the long house.  The outcome was good since the longhouse people were used to conduct activities on the corridor and more people attended because it was near their apartments. More women, particularly housewives  participated, most of them were not working, but their involvement in the discussions were brilliant.    
Briefing on village action preparation at an Iban Longhouse, Lundu Sarawak
Participant presented their ideas at the end of a workshop session