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The specialist international beekeeping organisation

Organic beekeeping

Organic agriculture is primarily a philosophy concerned with ecology, people and land use. However, many of us only understand organic agriculture in terms of the certification system which has evolved out of the basic philosophy.


The organic philosophy is concerned with the way people tend soils, water, plants and animals in order to produce, prepare and distribute food and other goods. Principles of health, ecology, fairness and care are central to the organic philosophy. Organic approaches embrace ecologically sensitive methods and reduced reliance on synthetic fertiliser and pesticides.  For more information about the Principles of Organic Farming see the external link to IFOAM below.

Organic certification  

In order to sell products which have been produced using organic methods it is necessary to participate in an organic certification scheme. Participation in such a scheme allows a producer to label their produce as organic and this can pave the way to achieving premium prices. Many farmers therefore adopt organic farming in order to gain an advantage in the market place and not because they are driven by a commitment to the primary organic principles.

To enter the organic market with products such as honey, pollen, propolis, royal jelly, beeswax, and bee venom, beekeepers must manage their bees in compliance with recognised organic standards. Each country or trading block will have their own organic standards but these will all conform to the demands of IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements). In Europe organic standards are defined by national legal frameworks that include obligatory guidelines for each element of the organic value chain.

The organic standards for beekeeping cover the same issues as the standards for other livestock; the food they eat, their living conditions, health care and other management practices, and the record keeping arrangements necessary for identification and audit trail purposes. For bee products to be certified as organic the bees must forage only from organically certified agricultural land or from wild natural areas.

To become an organic producer a beekeeper must register with an appropriate certification agency and comply with all the legal standards and set up a certifiable audit trail.   This cannot be achieved without incurring considerable cost so it is important to have a certain market before embarking on an expensive certification exercise.

Organic agriculture and apiculture in Africa   

In Africa, certified organic lands cover 890,504 hectares (or 0.12% of agricultural land involving crops such as fruits, nuts, coffee, cocoa and cotton.  The sector employs 124,805 farmers in 24 countries, and Uganda has the world's biggest number of organic farmers. Most certified organic production is geared towards export markets, mainly the European Union.

In Africa, there are also many thousands of hectares of wild areas which are certified as organic and organically certified export crops such as rosehip, gum Arabic, argan oil and sheabutter are harvested from these wild lands. Certification of wild lands offers considerable potential to the beekeeping community, many of whom are already using methods and approaches consistent with organic apiculture.

External links

IFOAM Principles of organic agriculture click here.


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