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An overview of beekeeping
The beekeeping industry in Guyana is suffering from a lack of interest and investment. Honey production peaked during the early to mid 1970s when beekeepers numbered a few hundred and included commercial, small-scale operators and hobbyists. Today, the number of beekeepers in Guyana is low, and foreign honey floods the market.
Beekeeping with honey bees started in Guyana when settlers brought bees from Europe. Until then, indigenous stingless bees were used for honey production, with an annual production of about 2 kg honey. The imported Italian honey bees were easy to manage, rarely swarmed, required low skill levels for their management, and produced good yields. The beekeeping community was well organised through a Beekeepers’ Society. Skills were passed on to the younger generation and new members were encouraged and welcomed. There was active training and extension education and under this scenario, the beekeeping industry flourished.
The arrival of African bees in Guyana in 1975 in the Rupununi, and in 1976 on the Coastland, impacted negatively on the beekeeping industry. This defensive bee made sensational media headlines and generated fear within the human population that had little knowledge of honey bees. The African bees took over hives that were previously occupied by the ‘gentle’ European races of honey bees. Hobbyist beekeepers were unable to keep hives in backyards for fear of these bees attacking people, livestock and pets. The smaller and commercial operators were also under similar threat. They scaled down their operations, and in time, most went out of business. Hives could no longer be kept in backyards and there were several incidences of bees stinging neighbours, pets and livestock, and souring good neighbourly relationships. Against this backdrop, many hobbyist beekeepers disappeared and by 1985, the number of beekeepers had dwindled to below fifty.
The Apiaries Division of the Ministry of Agriculture located at the Botanical Gardens was abandoned, and support waned. The support given in the late 1970s and early 1980s was not followed through, and the decline thereafter was obvious.
In the mid 1980s, attempts were made to revive beekeeping. Assistance was given by bringing in experts to study the industry and give lectures on managing African bees. Italian queen bees were imported and used to replace the African queen bees. The Beekeepers’ Association was resuscitated and became active. The number of beekeepers rose briefly, but thereafter decreased to the low level where it remains today.
The industry has lost skills through migration, passing on of the older generation, beekeepers moving into other, safer business ventures, and lack of training to teach the present generation. Several people have shown interest to become beekeepers, but there is no resource centre to teach basic skills. However, there exist still, a large number of honey collectors who raid wild colonies during ‘dark night’.
Lack of suitable apiary locations is another constraint facing beekeepers. In the past, beekeeping was largely a backyard operation with up to 50 hives or more in close proximity to neighbours. The African bees cannot be kept this way.
Very few beekeeping ventures are underway and for a revival, the industry must be encouraged and given the support it needs. Importantly, tracts of land should be identified and leased to beekeepers so they can safely buffer their hives from neighbours and provide water for the bees at the site.
The beekeeping industry needs to be re-tooled and equipment made available at affordable costs. A preliminary estimate to construct a hive with three supers is approximately GY$20,000-30,000 (US$105-160 €80-120). This investment is high and does not factor in maintenance, management and other overheads.
The security of hives is now of high priority. In the past, when hives were kept in backyards, there was no threat from vandals, but now the entire apiary can be subject to vandalism mainly from ‘honey gatherers’ who destroy the hives and cut, not only honeycombs, but also brood combs from the hives and squeeze all to produce ‘blast’ honey.
Published in Bees for Development Journal #82