Kyrgyz women revolutionize beekeeping: Harvesting milky white honey in the Tien Shan mountains


“There emerges from (bees’) bellies a drink, varying in colors, in which there is healing for people” (The Qur’an, 16:69). 

Beekeeper Damira Kampabekova shares this passage from the Qur’an. It shows the spiritual importance she attributes to her work of producing honey. Kyrgyzstan, a Muslim-majority country, is world-renowned for its prized white mountain honey that is believed to have immense health benefits.

Damira, age 61, loves her job working with the bees in her highland village, At-Bashy, in the Naryn region of central Kyrgyzstan. She harvests white honey at an altitude of 2 000 metres. In the warm season, she spends most of her time in the mountains looking after her hive and studying and collecting plants. The climatic conditions of the Naryn region are unique – being far from urban areas, the air and water are clean and wild herbs grow freely. The Naryn region contains the valleys and slopes of the high-altitude inner Tien Shan mountains, which are characterized by their harsh climate. Despite this, many rare medicinal herbs thrive in this environment. There are many wild meadows with an abundance of herbs and flowers – particularly notable is sainfoin, also known as “holy hay”. The beautiful pink blossoms of the sainfoin plant are known to produce a lot of nectar and pollen, making them a magnet for honeybees, including Damira’s. It is widely believed that honey coming from bees that feast on sainfoin is of the highest quality.

Honey collected from the mountains of At-Bashy is prided for being especially high value. The white honey product that Damira creates is all-natural and environmentally friendly; no fertilizers are used in the creation of the product. The honeybees buzz around an area about 5 km distance from the hive, following organic standards that prohibit beehives from being within 50 km of industrial areas, 15 km of highways and 15 km of non-organic agriculture. These restrictions maintain the honey’s purity by keeping the honeybees away from genetically modified organisms (GMOs), pollutants or any form of chemical agriculture.

The result is a soft textured honey, with a delicate fragrance and taste. It is highly nutritious and even said to be allergen-free. The white honey is certified organic according to the Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) that follows Bio-KG's private organic standard.

In 2002, Damira and her family started their small business, the “Dordoi Dary” LLC, which involves the creation of white honey, traditional medicine and medicinal herbs. Traditional medicine has been an important part of Kyrgyz life since ancient times. It emphasizes the use of medicinal herbs, which are prescribed by healers, called tamyrchy or tabyp. Damira has been working with medicinal herbs since her childhood, and in the early 1990s, she started learning pharmacy. Today, she cultivates several medicinal herbs such as calendula, chamomile and valerian.

Since its founding, Dordoi Dary has hired rural women to help with the processing of their products. Today, the company is run exclusively by women – excluding Damira’s son, one of her four children, who helps as a driver. Damira’s small business is revolutionizing beekeeping in Kyrgyzstan, where beekeeping is usually done by men, by being one of the unique, women-led groups of beekeepers.

The family employs ten women to help them process the raw honey to make the refined product, which is a simple process: after collecting the honey, it goes through an extractor that is carefully heated to 40 degrees – no hotter – and is then filtered and poured into its container. The honey takes on its white color as crystallization occurs.

Because the white honey is left untreated and is never pasteurized, it maintains its natural enzymes, amino acids, vitamins and nutrients, and is easy to digest.

Since founding her business, Damira has presented her honey product at 12 international exhibitions, where she represented Kyrgyzstan and promoted the amazing white honey of its mountains.

Damira and her family made a major step forward for their small business in 2020, when they were accepted into the Mountain Partnership Products (MPP) initiative and granted the MPP label. The MPP label is a narrative label that tells the story of each mountain product, enabling consumers to make informed purchases by learning about products' origins and cultivation, processing and preservation methods, nutritional value and role in local cultures.

Damira is looking forward to expanding her small business even further in the future. “I have ambitious plans to cultivate medicinal herbs and harvest honey from my own sainfoin fields. This plan will include the development of free land for growing plants and the creation of new jobs,” she says.

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News and photo from Damira Kampabekova & Asan Alymkulov

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