Myanmar’s honey producers need to find a way to add value to their products to earn higher profits, industry insiders said last week.
Exporters send only raw honey abroad and miss out on the possible profits from adding value, which would also create jobs. Instead, foreign companies reap these benefits, said U Htun Wai, chairman of Mandalay Shweyi Company.
“Myanmar’s honey is excellent but it needs to be better processed – foreign buyers don’t like that our honey is so dark,” he said.
“We need to lighten [the colour of] our honey if we want to earn more from exports. We’ve tried to import cheaper honey from China to dilute the honey farmed here as a form of value adding. And we will export blended honey in the hope that we’ll get a higher price,” he added.
Honey farmed in Myanmar sells for about $1100 a tonne internationally, said Dr Kyi Lwin Oo, a member of the Myanmar Apiculture Association (MAA). However, it sells for about K1400 a viss (1.6 kilograms or 3.6 pounds) domestically, he said.
Japan is the biggest buyer of Myanmar honey, purchasing more than 2000 tonnes a year. Japanese buyers choose Myanmar honey because of its high quality and the absence of antibiotics or other chemicals, which are commonly found in Chinese honey.
In the 2011-12 financial year, honey exports of more than 2130 tonnes earned $2.13 million.
Japanese companies also value-add honey from Myanmar before selling it domestically, he said.
“We have been exporting honey to Japan since 2007 and I think our company is the largest single supplier to that market,” U Htun Wai said.
However, he said Japan is a tough market with strict import controls – if inspectors find even a trace of antibiotics in a sample they reject the entire shipment.
Dr Kyi Lwin Oo, who is also general manager of Welcome General Trading Company, said Myanmar lacks the technology to attractively package exports.
“One method of value-adding that we practice is packing our honey into tins but there are no really attractive and high quality tins available in Myanmar,” he said.
“Another problem is that we don’t produce enough honey to make buying large packaging machinery economically viable,” he added.
U Htun Wai said domestic honey consumption averages 300 tonnes a year, with most used in traditional medicines.
“In Myanmar, there are two kinds of honey: One type is harvested from farms; and the other is gathered from hives scattered in the wild. Myanmar consumers like naturally gathered honey because they believe it’s healthy,” he added.
There are from 40,000-50,000 beehives countrywide, with honey gathered from late October through to May.