​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Transform Benben From Zero to Hero

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EditQuote Text (Do not add quotation marks):It’s better to have one honey bee than a hundred stingless bees (Benben).
EditQuote Attribution:A local proverb in Pakpak Bharat
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EditDescription:Propolis raw material to be shipped to propolis producers in West Java.
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This proverb is widely known in Pakpak Bharat District, but a year ago it was rebutted. Dahlan Sitakkar, chief of Tenggoli Mandiri honey beekeepers group in Kutameriah Village, Kerajaan Sub-District of Pakpak Bharat District, has proven that these small-sized bees, which used to be considered useless, can produce a high value product.

The 132 thousand hectares of Pakpak Bharat forests are a breeding ground for bees. One of the species commonly found in the area is the Renggicing honeybee (Apis cerana). Many beekeepers choose to cultivate them because they produce honey in bulks, which means more income for them.

Another species of bee inhabiting the area is Benben (Trigona). However, Benben is not favored among the locals because they have no sting and produce nothing. "Here, Benben is worthless. Anyone cultivating them must be out of their mind," said Dahlan. This sentiment is the very reason the above proverb was created and became popular.​

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EditDescription:Stubes used to place Benben's nest - every colony has different (pheromone) scent to usher Benben enter the right stube.
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​However, after attending a training from Conservation International, Dahlan gathered his courage and ventured into cultivating Benben. From the training, he learned that Benben could yield economic value from the gunk they produced, called propolis. Nowadays, propolis is widely sold for its natural antibiotic property. Cultivating Benben could be an alternative way to earn extra income for farmers.

Firstly, Dahlan located Benben's beehives which are normally found inside a katikuru (anthill) on the ground or on the trees. After separating the beehives from the katikuru, they are then placed inside a honey bee box, a structure made up of boards to house the bees.

The box is made by combining several wood planks to build a box with a length of 15-20 cm, width of 15 cm, and height of 35 cm. A small hole is cut on the cover to function as an entrance and exit ways for Benben. After four months, Benben can be harvested every four days and produce 50-100 grams of propolis.

In comparison, cultivating Renggicing is more complicated because they easily stress when being moved to a honey bee box. Once they get stressed, they will not return to the honey bee box to produce honey. Meanwhile, in January 2016, Dahlan easily harvested three kilograms of propolis by placing 50 honey bee boxes for Benben out in the woods. The product was sold for about IDR 200,000 per kilogram.​

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EditDescription:Dahlan, holds his son, Afis Kamal Sitakkar, explained, "I have gained additional income to support my family."
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"Just talking about the potential of cultivating Benben is not enough to convince people in this area, we have to prove it by doing and deliver concrete results. If the result is good, other farmers will follow suit. I have seen for myself that Mr. Dahlan’s propolis is indeed profitable. Soon, I will also sell the propolis harvested from my Benben," said Iswanto Dabutar, a beekeeper in Kutameriah Village. Along with eleven other farmers, he started cultivating Benben after witnessing Dahlan’s success.

By October 2016, Dahlan has managed to sell around eight kilograms of propolis, and used the money to buy fertilizers for his paddy and chili plants, as well as to pay daily living expenses, such as for water and electricity payments, and for food.

"Now, I believe that Benben has a high economic value. And, they are easier to cultivate than Renggicing and very suitable for people living on the forest edge like us, where flowering trees become a source of food for these bees. I hope more honeybee farmers will be interested in cultivating Benben to improve their economy," said Dahlan.​

(Sarmaidah Damanik)​