Graduated with a BSc in Mathematics in 2011, Lancelot SHIR has taken a sweet and varied journey in life. A few years after graduation, Lancelot already had success with his first business — a tutorial center teaching mathematics — which he funded with two years of hard work of working.
As a local rock star tutor, it could have been all maths for Lancelot with his tutorial business achieving great results. However, he encountered a health problem in 2017 due to massive work pressure, and his life took an unexpected turn.
“I was suffering from a stomach problem and a friend of mine suggested I used raw honey to treat the problem. It worked a treat and I was suddenly catapulted into the world of honey and bees – I couldn’t stop learning and it changed my life,” he says.
Lancelot learned all the things about beekeeping from a local beekeeper on a farm in Yuen Long, studying honey production without the use of antibiotics, no sugar, and no heat compression. His interest grew steadily and later started another business, Hong Kong Raw Honey in 2017, with two HKUST alumni. Since then, he not only became an advocate for health benefits of raw honey but also about maintaining the vitality of bees to the global ecosystem.
For much of the past 10 years, beekeepers have been reporting annual hive losses of 30 percent or higher. The situation is alarming as the global decline in bee populations poses a serious threat to a wide variety of plants and corps critical to human well-being and livelihoods.
“It’s one of the main reasons I became a beekeeper, as bee numbers across the world are declining rapidly due to global warming and pesticide use, yet they are essential for the pollination of plants, with roughly 70 percent of food globally supported by bees,” Lancelot says.
Ever-expanding urban developments in densely populated cities threaten wild bees and their food supply. And ever stronger tropical storms are exacerbating the damage. As such, despite all the hard work, the supply of honey is unreliable.
An effective way of tackling the problem can be widespread urban beekeeping for solitary bees. Lancelot says solitary bees, accounting for 90% of the world’s bee populations, are perfect to be kept in the home because they are harmless and can survive without the support of a hive. By using wood and other materials, a small base for solitary bees can be put anywhere whether at home or in the park, creating more pollination for the natural environment.
The practice of placing “bee hotels” in urban environments is growing across the world. “It’s very big in Taiwan and they even promote it to local schools, but in Hong Kong we have a while to go,” he says.
The journey was made possible to Lancelot in many ways by HKUST. Having taken Eco Studies and China Studies minors as a complement to his Mathematics degree, Lancelot was exposed to information about global warming and how climate change is impacting the earth. And he is driven to share his knowledge with others.
Lancelot has maintained his tutoring business and at the same time been busy building his production sites near Tai Mo Shan Country Park and Lantau Island, and running tours of his farms where visitors learn about major nectar plants in Hong Kong, bee anatomy and lifestyle, how to harvest honey, and building bee hotels.
“I’m working hard in the sun, trying to keep track of queens, and dealing with swarming. Bees have predators, they get sick, and the queen, who is essential to the health of the hive, can die as well, so there’s a lot to do,” he says.
Hong Kong Raw Honey is part enterprise, activism, and education. While the industry is nascent in the city, Lancelot says it can take off the way craft beer has globally, a reason why he is now focusing on distribution, marketing and packaging.
“We need to let people know about it and be inspired by our product and what we are doing to help the world. Everyone in this city wants to be a lawyer, doctor or banker, and we need to change this and get people educated. I know it’s hard to do – even my parents were not entirely pleased with my choice,” says Lancelot, who shows us that although the road ahead is thorny, we just have to “bee” ourselves, and follow our dreams for the betterment of mankind.
Hong Kong Raw Honey is now for sale at HKUST’s souvenir shop. Come and support this young man’s efforts to safeguard bees and our abundant food varieties.