The European honey bee (Apis mellifera) was first introduced to Papua New Guinea (PNG) from Australia in the late 1930s by expatriates, for their own use. Swarms from existing hives and further introductions in the 1960s and 1970s has led to this species becoming widespread in PNG. These bees are most productive at 1500–2000 m altitude in PNG and a small honey industry was established in Eastern Highlands Province (EHP) and other highlands provinces in the early 1970s. Honey production in 1975 was about 25 tonnes. Growth continued until 1986 when the number of hives peaked at about 4000, with 500 producers harvesting 120 tonnes of honey in that year. The honey was processed and packed at a plant near Goroka by the Highlands Honey Producers Company. Some was sold on the domestic market and some was exported to Europe where it was marketed as ‘organic’, but exports ceased in the early 1990s. Production per colony declined from 30 kg to 20 kg in the 1990s due to poor management, low prices, the closure of the honey producers cooperative, competition from the invading Asian bee (A. cerana) and changes in nectar sources following the 1997 drought.
Recently the industry has made a slow recovery. Prices have improved and the Eastern Highlands Provincial Government has supported honey producers with training. Most honey production is concentrated in EHP, with about 370 producers who typically have 5–10 hives each. The New Guinea Fruit Company is the principal buyer, processor and marketer of honey in EHP. There are a limited number of hives in the other four highlands provinces; near Oksapmin in Sandaun Province; and in Bougainville Province. The number of producers is expanding slowly and interest is increasing from potential producers elsewhere in the highlands.
Honey is sold on the domestic market, with about half through informal arrangements and the remainder through New Guinea Fruit Company. Production in 2007 of about 40 tonnes was worth an estimated K500 000 to growers. Domestic consumption is about 200 tonnes/year, so about 160 tonnes of honey is imported each year.
Both the domestic and export market offer potential for expanded production. Eastern Highlands Province has capacity for an estimated 20 000 colonies (from about 3000 currently). There is demand for 500–600 tonnes/year of PNG organically certified honey from a number of overseas buyers. PNG honey is able to be marketed as ‘organic’ because antibiotics, miticides, pesticides or fumigants are not used. A fledgling industry in the Oksapmin area was destroyed by the varroa mite in the 1980s. Fortunately this serious pest has not reached the Highlands Region, but it remains a potential threat to honey production there.