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Zoom in on Slovakia

Good conditions

Rich sources of bee forage allow efficient beekeeping in most areas of the country. The landscape in Slovakia is rugged - lowlands, hills and high mountain ranges lie close to each other. Therefore Slovak honeys are usually mixed. In the southern part of Slovakia in the early spring beekeepers determine the survival of wintered colonies and observe their spring growth rates. These are dependent upon important early nectar and pollen sources, including fruit trees and willows and oilseed rape. At the end of this initial season Acacia is in bloom and during the summer, clover, seed crops and sunflower provide pollen and nectar.

In northern Slovakia coniferous honeydew is found, especially on spruce and fir. This is the principal bee forage in the highlands and mountains of Slovakia. Other nectar sources in these places include bilberries, meadow flowers and raspberries, all of which are hardy in the cooler climate. Dark honeys produced from forest fir and spruce are of outstanding quality and are much sought by international markets.

Honeybees

The most significant race of honeybees is the Carniolan bee Apis mellifera carnica.

This race is indigenous and popular for its good wintering, quick spring growth and calmness. Importation of other races of honeybees is not allowed. In Slovakia there are five breeding and 30 multiplication stations, that produced 9,000 queens in 2002. These queens belong mostly to eight Slovakian lines of Carniolan bee, although the effects of importation of some Austrian Carniolan lines have been visible in recent years. By appropriate selection and breeding, bee-breeders select colonies that are less inclined to swarm and to show resistance to Varroa. Unfortunately many beekeepers misunderstand the role of high quality queens and raise their own, instead of purchasing from breeders.

Honeybee breeding station in Rozhanovce
Honeys vary from light acacia to dark honeydew

Bee products

The long-term annual Slovakian honey yield is 12-15 kg per colony; however, top yields can surpass 80 kg per colony.

Honey is used by the beekeepers themselves, sold directly to consumers, or purchased by a number of companies and exported, mostly to EU countries. 1,500-2,000 tonnes is exported annually, representing 1/3 -1/2 of the total annual yield. The greatest demand is for honeydew and unifloral honeys. Consumption of honey in Slovakia is just 0.25 kg per capita, with many people using it only for sweetening tea and to prevent colds, flu and other diseases. At Christmas, honey is an essential item on every table. Honey is marketed in a variety of packages: cakes and gingerbread, cereal bars, honey-filled chocolate, nuts with honey, sweets, and sweetened drinks, with mead increasingly popular. Attractively decorated honey pastries of various shapes can be seen at exhibitions.

Venom and royal jelly were used as additives in famous pharmaceutical products (Virapin, Vita-Apinol), but due to low prices of these raw materials on the global market beekeepers are no longer motivated to produce them. Some cooled pollen for bumblebee rearing and propolis for antibacterial products are requested by foreign buyers on an annual basis.

Organisations, research and education

The first national association, the Slovak Association of Beekeepers in Upper Hungary, was created in 1869, although regional associations were previously active. Today most beekeepers are members of the Slovak Association of Beekeepers that publishes the wellknown monthly magazine Vcelar (The Beekeeper).

In the north, Liptovsky Hradok is home to the Institute of Beekeeping. The Institute is not large, yet together with the University of Agriculture in Nitra and the University of Veterinary Medicine in Kosice, co-ordinates research activities, insemination of queens, and other programmes.

A very popular product: mead is packed in a variety of bottles

The Slovak Academy of Sciences in Bratislava is involved in an international programme dealing with gene mapping of honeybees. The Beekeeping Section of the Slovak Agricultural University in Nitra teaches beekeeping and pollination to students and the public.

Ten years of decline

In the last few years the clear trend has been a reduction throughout Europe in the number of bee colonies. Causes include economic factors, the worsening environment, and health problems for bees. An analogous situation exists in Slovakia: the number of colonies today is about 250,000 compared with 430,100 in 1989. Since the 'Velvet Revolution' in 1989, more than 20,000 people have ceased beekeeping as a hobby. The current status is about 18,100 beekeepers, each with an average of 11 colonies.

Until recently many different types of hives were used in Slovakia. Currently there is a growing use of standard hives with double walls.

Nevertheless, in comparison with statistical surveys of some other European countries, our situation is not the worst. We still have about 7.5 bee colonies per km 2 . As a comparison, Austria, Bulgaria, and Romania each have 5.5 bee colonies per km2; in Germany there are 4.5 colonies per km 2 ; in Italy and Spain 3.2 colonies are found per km 2 ; and in Ireland and Sweden there are only 0.2 colonies per km 2 .

Main problems

• Changes in government support and need to adopt EU policy. Until 2003, beekeepers were supported by the Ministry of Agriculture with a financial subsidy for each colony. This system did not motivate beekeepers to make structural changes to their apiaries. Beekeeping is still mainly an inefficient activity, not a highly organised industry. Approximately 75% of all beekeepers keep less than 10 colonies each. The Ministry supported also medication, queen purchase and bee colony check-ups, and an export subsidy for honey. The SAPARD programme (an EU grant instrument for agro-sector support in EU associated countries) allows beekeepers to apply for subsidies to build honey-processing plants.

However, in the immediate future we an anticipate a continuous decline of hobby beekeepers, as EU legislation prefers large, commercial apiaries. In this situation the concept of further development of beekeeping in Slovakia by the Ministry of Agriculture seems to be important, with a strategy for beekeeping until 2005.

• The rapid rise in household income means more people can afford to buy sugar instead of honey. Prices fluctuate depending on annual harvest and EU import policies from third countries.

• The disinterest of youngsters in beekeeping - the majority of beekeepers are retired people.

• The orientation of the Slovak agricultural industry toward higher profit projects with less risk.

• Beekeeping is negatively affected by diseases and pests of bees and brood, mainly Varroa and American Foulbrood. Varroa was first detected in 1978: between 1978-1982, 20,000 colonies were killed. Since 1983, when effective medicines were introduced, Varroa has been Controlled. We use the fumigation method with local Avartin strips (Amitraz), preparations with pyrethroids (Gabon PA and PF) and formic acid (Formidol evaporating pads, Apiform solution). Antibiotic treatments to control foulbrood were found to be ineffective and only radical eradication of this disease by destroying colonies is used today.

I have tried in this review to pay attention to the problems faced by Slovak beekeepers, which are comparable to other countries of East and Central Europe. At present, changes to the market economy can be seen in Slovakia, including the legislative effects of Slovakia's association with the EU. Slovakia is a country of great beekeeping traditions and home for thousands of beekeepers. We are very interested to establish closer links with research and academic institutions, as well as with beekeeping associations around the world.

We are grateful to Róbert Chlebo from the Slovak Agricultural University in Nitra for providing the information and photographs for this article.

SLOVAKIA Capital city: Bratislava

Slovakia was constituted on 1st January 1993 as a new independent nation, following the dissolution of the 74 year old federal government of Czechoslovakia. Since November 1989, when massive folk movement smashed the communist dictatorship in Czechoslovakia, the country has returned to a parliamentary democracy with a liberal trade economy.

Population: Less than 5.5 million Size: 49,032 km 2

Climate: Moderate; even during a hard winter in the mountainous regions the limits are bearable for beekeeping. Generally, spring arrives in early March and the sunny autumn extends until the end of October.

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