Assal Taby-e- Badakhshan
Apis dorsata, a native bee, lives in the mountains east of Badakhshan around 2700m above sea level. Weighing between 5-7g, it is perceived as a large, defensive, and easily-distinguished bee; it is often referred to as “gigantic bee” locally. It is dark yellow with black lines around the abdomen with long hair on its head. It does not exhibit swarming behavior. The region it lives in includes the Eshkashim and Kishm districts, which produce more natural honey than other districts. Due to its native landscape, this bee is more tolerant of cold weather and wakes from hibernation in early May, when the wild plants it pollinates are flowering. Species include wild flowering plants such as Shator Khar (Alhagi graecorum), Zabansag (Cynoglossum offcinale), Heng (Ferula assa-foetida), and Qasedak (Taraxacum platycarpum), and some trees like apple (Malus pumila), wild almond (Amygdalus scoparia), apricot (Prunus armeniaca), and walnut (Jugalandes regia). This bee makes its hive in the holes of stones or under rocks, on trees, and near to waterfalls. In the summer it migrates to hills and mountains and in the autumn it returns back to smooth plains. People use the honey as holy food according to their beliefs. In the first few days after childbirth, women drink a large glass of boiled milk with one egg and 5 spoons of the natural honey. It is believed it has a positive impact on bones and increases milk yield for the newborn. The honey itself is very sweet with a yellow to bronze color with high concentration and transparency. Yearly, a single bee can produce around 50 kg of honey.
The honey is wild-harvested from the bees’ natural habitats and hives, which are found in or under rocks, on trees, and sometimes under bushes. Each hive is distanced from each other by at least 0.5-1km. Locals harvest the honey in the early morning while bees are out of their hives. Commonly, harvesting is done in August and September, with processing by hand happening right after. Storage for the honey includes earthenware jars for storage, and the wax leftover from production has medicinal uses.
The Badakhshan province is difficult to cross due to its high mountains. The availability of flat agricultural land is difficult to find, making agricultural yield for the local community a challenge. Agriculture has not met the food and economic needs of the people, but a history of hundreds of years of livestock, herding, natural honey collecting, and medicinal plant foraging has kept the community alive. The usage of honey has been part of the food culture of the local communities in this area for hundreds of years and is part of the income of the families. These people believe that honey is a gift from God, which is provided for free by bees in nature, so they think of this product as a sacred and holy product. After the collecting of the honey, the locals store them in pottery and sell their extra products in the market whenever they come to the big cities like Balkh and Kabul. It is the best way of income-generating activities among Badakhshan honey producers.
Unfortunately, the introduction of new species like Apis cardica is becoming more popular among producers, as they have a higher yield and therefore can provide more product for sale or consumption. Farmed honey has gained interest in local communities for this reason, leaving natural honey production behind. However, because of climate change, the bees are emigrating to mountains, making it difficult to collect their honey. There is a need to preserve the natural honey production in the Badakhshan province of Afghanistan.