Beekeeping can top current $2.6b a year in earnings – agri official
From left: Bodles' Regional Extension Officer Attoy Williams and Chief Plant Protection Officer Hugh Smith view a display at the apiculture booth during the recently held Denbigh agricultural show.

DENBIGH, Clarendon — There is the potential to rake in much more than the $2.6 billion now earned from beekeeping each year if locals can produce some of the value-added products now being imported and also tap into the export market, according to an official from the agriculture ministry.

"The opportunity exists to export to the European market and Jamaica has satisfied all the requirements to do that, but we are not making use of that as exporters. The industry can take more beekeepers and investors who just need to be smart and look at production and productivity, while bearing climate change in mind. The good thing, however, is that Jamaicans are aware of the things that are on the market so all we need to do is to create substitutes at affordable prices to replace these goods and export the excess," said chief plant protection officer in charge of the apiculture unit in the Ministry of Agriculture Hugh Smith, in an interview with the Jamaica Observer.

He said about $2.6 billion worth of inputs are invested into beekeeping every year, which generates just about the same in earnings.

Noting that the vast beekeeping industry ranges from production in the field through to the value-added products on the market, he pointed to the need for more locals to look to the sector as a way to earn a living.

"We need people to convert the pollen into capsules or tablets, propolis and honey into wines and sauces and other products. That aspect is almost untouched. One of the things we would like to see is people concentrating on the Jamaican raw material and converting them into value-added products so that we can exclude some of the imported products that may not necessarily be healthy for us," he said.

He added that the apiculture unit, which is located at Bodles Research Station, is pushing for increased production in the field and exploring all avenues to expand the value chain. It also works to protect the local beekeeping industry.

"The country is in good standing when it comes to pests and diseases because we use all efforts to restrict the products coming in. For honey, you need a permit to take it in and you have to prove that the honey you are taking in is not a risk to Jamaica's industry. You also have to prove that the bee products are not a risk for you to be granted that permit," said Smith.

These permits, he said, are usually granted through the veterinary services in partnership with the beekeeping unit.

"Imports of bee products are very low because we have joined forces with customs to seize all illegal imports. What is coming in large amounts are the value-added products and we have no regulations to restrict the importation of these products. It's not honey, pollen, propolis, or beeswax; it's lip balm or hair products that have wax in it. There's a lot in the industry and the value chain is not exploited. This is why we are calling for investors to look carefully at how some cottage industries are going right now and use them to filter persons into the market," he said.

In the meantime, Smith said, there are young people entering the sector through the 4-H clubs, the Social Development Commission, and other community groups with projects and proposals. The apiculture unit is working with them to bring them on board.

"We want to see more effort and money being pumped into beekeeping as a scientific approach and doing it as a business. We have joined Food For the Poor, which has given us the opportunity by providing resources through their funders, to put persons who cannot afford it into beekeeping," he said.

He is also urging consumers to buy local honey and other locally made value-added products in order to get the best out of apiculture and the industry.

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