Ahnand Rajkumar provides us firstly with an overview of apiculture in Guyana. Following is a report about Ahnand’s brother Rabbie, and nephew Ravi Rajkumar, and their beekeeping enterprise.
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.
Honey bee pests present in Guyana are:
Army ants - Invade hives, kill adult bees and feed on the brood. Can weaken or kill the entire colony.
Toads - Sit in front of hives and consume large number of bees.
Lizards - Consume adult bees, but not a serious problem.
Predatory - bugs Feed on adult bees. Low threat.
Wax moth -Two species that invade colonies are present in Guyana. Can result in significant damage to hives.
Termites - Not a direct threat to bees. Destroy wooden hive materials. Damage can be significant.
Varroa mite - Presence in Guyana not established.
Production and quality control
The quantity of honey produced per colony varies according to attention paid, techniques used, location of the hive and the bee pasture. An estimated 45 kg of honey per colony per year can be produced with Italian honey bees.
Beekeeping has potential to contribute meaningfully to the economy of Guyana. There are vast bee pastures all over the country from where various colours and flavours of honey and beeswax can be harvested. Teaching beekeeping to the younger generation and establishing a training apiary would go a long way to arrest the decline of the industry.
Strategies for revival - summary
⬥ Hire a competent beekeeper for extension education
⬥ Provide an intensive training programme for small operators
⬥ Establish a training apiary
⬥ Make land available for beekeeping
⬥ Document the honey flow periods.
There are several species of indigenous bees in the interior, forested areas of Guyana. They all have unique defences. One deposits a very sticky substance, another secretes chemicals that give effects similar to burns, another is gentle and flies around the face in large numbers, and there is a biting one. Finally, there is the ferocious ‘Tar Honey’ that builds a solidly constructed, round nest high in forest canopy. They find their way under the best of protection and imbed their mandibles at the hair roots, and would make the best of operators take to their heels. The gentlest of all is the tiny bee nesting in the middle of termite Nasutermites sp nests. This species of stingless bee is common along the Atlantic coast of Guyana and nests in the hollows of trees, houses, and even old machinery. Other stingless bee species are present in the interior area of the country.
5th Caribbean Beekeeping Congress, Guyana 2008 - More details in future editions of BfD Journal
Further reading - Zoom in on …Guyana Bees for Development Journal 24
Proceedings of the Caribbean Beekeeping Congresses, 1-3. On our web store at www.beesfordevelopment.org
RAJKUMAR’S HONEY WORKS AND APIARY
Rabbie and his son Ravi are the third and fourth generations of the Rajkumar family to be in the honey business, which was started in the 1940s by Ahnand and Rabbie’s father. They have 250 colonies at Fort Wellington, Mahaicony and at Laluni, in the interior.
Once every month, Rabbie and Ravi journey to their apiary at Fort Wellington, West Coast Berbice to extract honey. Here the tree of choice for the bees is the mangrove, widespread along the shore. The blossoming season occurs from late August to early January, and during this period one colony can produce almost 30 litres of honey. The bees pollinate the mangroves which play a vital part in preserving the shoreline from erosion.
Making good use of bees
Ravi deploys smoke around the hives whilst Rabbie lifts the covers to see if the honey is ready for harvest. He brushes the bees off the combs with a hand brush, and Ravi picks up the frames and places them in boxes to take to the factory at Mon Choisi Village. He then puts empty frames in the hives: these will be ready for harvesting in about a month.
Over at the factory, father and son offload the boxes and start extracting the honey. After uncapping the combs, together with an employee, Ravi lifts them into the extractor and turns the handle to spin the honey out. Buckets at the base of the extractor collect the honey, which is then strained, into a barrel. When all of the honey is extracted the task of bottling the product in 200 ml, 500 ml and 1 litre bottles begins. With their label Rajkumar's Honey Works & Apiary - Nature's Own Food, the bottles are ready for market.
Ravi said: “We do our own bee breeding. We manufacture all equipment such as hives, frames, wax foundation and protective clothing, as this is a lot more economical”. They also provide a service capturing Africanised bees that are nesting on rooftops or in trees. Though the bees would not interfere with anyone, they act defensively and only attack if disturbed. Ravi recalls getting stung a few times but “it was not so bad that I needed to be hospitalised”. He said it is not advisable to have the bees close to homes but that does not mean persons should destroy them. Rather, they should have them captured and put to good use. He stressed the usefulness of bees and said that farmers exterminate them often while spraying their crops to get rid of pests and diseases. Ravi said: “Farmers have little knowledge of the benefits of the bees to their crops, and if they happen to spray during pollination, they get rid of the bees as well as the diseases. By doing this they decrease their yields”. Honey from the Laluni apiary is not at risk from pesticides since that area is known for its rich wild forest, yielding honey all year round.
Beekeeping in Guyana is not getting the support of other agricultural ventures. Recently, Mohamed Hallim, an apiculturist from the Caribbean Institute of Beekeeping, held a talk with beekeepers at the Red House in Georgetown. Rabbie is pleased that the Government has accepted the invitation to host the 5th Caribbean Beekeeping Congress in Guyana - this will give the industry the boost its needs.
Bees for Development acknowledges Stabroek News (article by Shabna Ullah, www.stabroeknews.com) for the use of this text
FARMER TO FARMER BEEKEEPING PROJECTS
Farmer to Farmer Beekeeping Project
Dewey Caron, University of Delaware, USA
With improving political stability in Haiti, a special Partners of the Americas’ Farmer to Farmer Beekeeping Programme, funded by USAID, is back on track. Through the programme, US beekeeping volunteers spend 2-3 weeks working with Haitian beekeeping individuals or organisations to improve local apiculture skills and further the production and sale of quality honey. Most Haitian beekeepers have had little formal beekeeping training and have limited access to resources to improve their operations.
Many Haitian hives are local-style, with fixed combs. Beekeepers recognise the value of movable-frame hives, but lack the knowledge of hive construction or funds to import. Wood is highly prized for firewood. Construction materials for movable-frame (Langstroth) hives are not generally available, and since they are imported, are beyond the means of many beekeepers. Volunteers seeking to upgrade hives are not necessarily seeking to eliminate the local-style hives but to integrate movable frames with the local hives.
A number of Farmer to Farmer beekeeping volunteers have recently visited bee associations in the Cap-Haïtien area to work with Benito Jasmin of Makouti Agro Enterprises. Don Hopkins, North Carolina State Apiarist visited in December 2005 to assist beekeepers in evaluation of the overall health of their colonies and demonstrated methods of Varroa detection. In the past two years, colony losses have been excessive, and Varroa is the major suspect for this.
Ann Harman from Virginia visited twice in 2006 to work on hives, honey production and marketing. Jamie Ellis, Bee Extension Specialist at the University of Florida, worked with producers on disease and pest control. His presentations to associations included: identification, prevention and elimination of Varroa mite infestations; methods to handle severe ant predation; and diagnosis and control of chalk brood,
European and American foulbrood diseases - all of which were detected in colony inspections. Jamie initiated efforts on a seasonal management calendar. Virginia Webb worked with beekeepers in the Cap-Haïtien area on simple honey processing methods. She also gave a workshop on the use of beeswax for candles and craft products.
I visited in June 2006 with Don Hopkins to extend beekeeping instruction to an EU sponsored beekeepers’ co-operative in Pilate (Cotapop) in the northeast of Haiti, a region still suffering from extensive flooding due to Hurricane Jeanne in 2004. We assessed efforts of northern coast beekeepers to combat Africanisation and increasing Varroa populations. Linda Aine and Peggy Carlson, of the Partners’ office in Washington, USA, also visited in 2006, working with Makouti Agro Enterprises to develop a marketing strategy for their products and give training on the basics of economic development. Many Farmer to Farmer volunteers develop a long-term commitment to the programme and make multiple visits to work on different aspects of a project.
For more information on Partners of the Americas and the Farmer to Farmer Programme, visit www.partners.net.
THE HONEY AND BEESWAX MARKET IN THE EU
This CBI Market Survey covers the EU market for honey and beeswax, and with greater information about the markets of France, Germany, Italy, Spain, The Netherlands and the UK. The following issues are discussed:
⬥ The EU consumes approximately 22% of the world’s traded honey production. EU honey consumption is increasing slightly. Fluctuations in consumption have been caused by imports of honey contaminated with substances prohibited by the EU.
⬥ Utilisation of beeswax is increasing at a slow rate.
⬥ The EU produces around 50% of the honey and beeswax it uses, with the remainder imported. Recently South American countries supply the majority of EU honey imports, with Chinese supplies recovering from the consequences of the ban imposed in 2002.
⬥ China has consolidated its dominant position regarding EU imports of beeswax.
⬥ Honey reaches retailers through importers and packers, who often blend honey to make cheap and acceptable table honey.
⬥ Importers of beeswax, and agents acting on behalf of beeswax traders, often mediate between exporters of beeswax and refiners in the EU.
CBI is the Centre for Promotion of Imports from developing countries
This useful 15 page document gives October 2006 EU import prices of honey and beeswax, and provides essential market information for traders of honey and beeswax in developing countries who aim to gain access to EU markets. Free to download at www.cbi.nl