The Bee Panda Honey is a project designed and implemented by Shan Shui Partner Co., Ltd. , a Chinese social enterprise, and Shan Shui Conservation Center, a Chinese conservation organization, in collaboration with 3 Giant Panda National Reserves, namely Wang Lang, Baishuijiang and Changqing.
Prof. Lv Zhi, Founder of Shan Shui Conservation Center and Professor of Conservation Biology at Peking University, recalls: “The story can be traced back to a snowy day twenty-seven years ago when I, a senior college student of Peking University, followed Professor Pan Wenshi into the Qinling Mountains to track wild pandas for the first time. The animal has since then become an inseparable part of my life. I can still remember how thrilled, yet tranquil, I felt at the first sight of a panda in the wild. Soon, however, the excitement was replaced by anxiety as I realized that the visible shrinking of panda habitats is happening every day. We had to do something.”
Currently giant pandas inhabit in 6 mountain ranges and are spread among 25 populations. 46% of the habitat of their habitats are located outside of official nature reserves and belong to community-managed forests. These community-managed forests host 33% of the overall wild panda population. The dispersion over several uncoordinated community forests leads to highly fragmented habitats and isolated small populations. Activities threatening the vast community-owned panda habitats include local livestock grazing, poaching, wild herbs collecting, etc.
The Bee Panda Honey Project was launched to increase support from local communities toward Giant panda conservation by demonstrating that conservation can provide them with alternative livelihoods, raise awareness about the threats faced by biodiversity and Giant pandas in particular among city dwellers. In addition, Shan Shui Partner pledges 10% of the sales revenue for conservation and community well-being, which increases funding for conservation in the area.
The forests hosting Giant pandas are rich in an amazing number of plants – more than 4000! – and this vast pool of wild flowers makes honey a perfect product to provide alternative livelihood to local communities and raise environmental awareness among its consumers. This model can also be easily replicated to other protected areas with similar vast forest habitats – and indeed honey is a common products promoted in and near protected areas around the world.
Great care has been paid to the coherence and ecological benefits of the project with three main criteria:
1. Quality of the honey:
– Bee hives are located at least 3 km away from any building, near good nectar source and clean water. This ensures the honey is free of pollution and pesticide. Local communities thus have a stake to maintain the good ecological conditions of panda habitats as healthy habitats mean superior honey and increased income;
– Standards have been established and records are kept for production.
2. Local community benefits:
– The beekeepers belong to local communities living in or near the panda habitats;
– The Bee Panda Honey price paid to producers exceed the local market price (by 20% or more);
– 10% of the Bee Panda Honey sales are returned to local communities to support their collective needs including conservation actions, technical training on beekeeping, capacity building of farmer cooperatives, development of other eco-friendly products, etc.
3. Environmental benefits:
– Local honey bee (Apis cerana cerana) are used, even if their yield is much lower, as they are more adapted to the diversified plants in panda habitats and thus achieve higher pollination benefits for these plants. Local Chinese honey bee populations have sharply declined in the past century and this project also contributes to their conservation;
– The production process aims for the absence of any negative impact on local ecosystems, including biodiversity, water, soil, etc.
– Mobilization of community-based conservation, which is more effective and continuous. Local communities and beekeepers have to commit to implement conservation actions to join the project and to obtain the associated premium price and the pay-back of 10% of sales.
– The project demonstrates to the community a possible virtuous cycle of eco-friendly livelihood, and persuades locals to give up unsustainable livelihood.
These criteria lead to lower honey yield and project profit but they ensure higher honey quality and biodiversity benefits.
Preliminary results from a research led by Dr. Liu Ping, an Associate Professor from the Colleague of Food Science and Nutrition Engineering, China Agricultural University, indicate that the Bee Panda Honey contains significantly higher polyphenol content. Polyphenols and other active substances are closely related to honey’s antitumor, anticancer and antibacterial effects, and to the prevention of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases. Bee Panda Honey also demonstrates antibacterial effects and helps to maintain healthy gut bacteria. These above-average effects are a testimony of the benefits of the giant panda forest habitat origin of the nectar, and the high-quality approach promoted by the Bee Panda Honey.
Up to 2016, the benefits of the scheme for the 392 km2 area of giant panda habitats involved in this project, sustaining a total of 4175 species of plants, 248 species of birds and 92 species of mammals, included:
1. Social and economic benefits
– Beneficiaries involved in the project: 28 households, more than 112 persons (2015: 19 households, more than 60 persons)
– Cumulative sales for 2015 and 2016: RMB 1,500,000
– Average income generated by the project: RMB 25,257/household/year (2016: RMB 19,167/household/year), with a baseline average household income excluding beekeeping of between RMB 7,000 and RMB 15,000 per household per year (thus 2016 incomes are RMB 10,000 to 18,000 higher compared to the baseline)
2. Ecological benefits
– Villager patrols: patrols involving more than 216 person-times/year, with 18 participants
– Number of villagers/nature reserve staffs whose awareness has been raised through understanding of this project: 1,215 persons
3. Local community well-being
– Cumulative contribution to local communities: more than RMB 250,000 (from the 10% of sales paid back to local communities and other sources)
– Supporting necessary community conservation and community well-being projects, such as building patrolling stations, setting fences to prevent wild boar and human conflicts, buying first-aid kits for patrol members, supporting community capacity building, road construction and maintenance, developing eco-friendly cold water aquaculture, etc.
Awareness raising among urban dwellers is also an integral benefit of the project.
This project is typical of the products and services seek to promote: high-quality products improving and linking the livelihoods of local communities to conservation, thus encouraging them to support biodiversity protection, with direct or indirect biodiversity benefits (here through patrols and financing for conservation). The role of GPAFS for the Bee Panda Honey has been to support Shan Shui Partner to market the honey online on GPAFS’ online shop on Taobao and WeChat.