It’s 5am in Bintulu and the sun is barely up, but Martina Anak Wong is already on the road, sitting behind the wheel of her trusty pickup truck on her way to Jalan Samalaju.
There, deep in the shade of palm oil trees, lies her bee farm.
It is a small farm by most standards, containing 250 to 300 hives. Each month, she is able to produce about 60kg of honey.
Every day, she treks into the forest land, collecting honey from the hives scattered throughout. It takes a long time but the sweet harvest is well worth her efforts.
For the most part, beekeeping in Sarawak is still considered a man’s job, but Martina is out to shatter that image. Four days a week, every week, she toils at her farm, collecting the honey from her so-called stingless bees.
This honey is known locally as madu kelulut.
Each hive can produce about half a kg of honey per month.
“I learnt how to be a beekeeper when I first moved to Bintulu town, working with my uncle at his bee farm,” she told MalaysiaNow.
She has been running her own farm for more than a decade now, working with her stingless bees.
Unlike the Western honeybee or Apis Mellifera, stingless bees do not require requeening since each colony has several ready to take over if the current laying queen begins to fail.
Operating her own farm was a dream come true for Martina.
But like many other small businesses throughout the country, hers suffered badly after the onset of Covid-19 and the closure of business activities.
From 60kg of honey a month, production dipped drastically as she was unable to work on her farm.
“Harvest season came just as the lockdown began,” she recalled.
“I couldn’t distribute my stock to other places, either, due to the travel restrictions.”
During normal times, she would make anywhere from RM6,000 to RM8,000 a month. During the movement control order period, though, this dwindled to nearly nothing.
Now, though, things are beginning to look up again. With the country looking to transition towards the endemic phase of Covid-19 next month, Martina has been able to start up operations once again.
These days, Martina is back where she belongs, tending to her bees and churning out enough honey to keep her customers happy and satisfied.
Looking back not just at the Covid-19 crisis but her entire career as a beekeeper, she says she owes much to her bees.
“Thanks to them, many women are now able to generate an income by themselves without having to rely on other people,” she said.