Wed | May 22, 2019

Cash in on the buzz! - Jamaicans urged to seize opportunity as US bee colonies collapse

Published:Tuesday | April 2, 2019 | 12:06 AMJason Cross/Gleaner Writer
Odette Green, founder and director of Beetique Industries
Loren Allen, a bee farmer in Longwood district, St Elizabeth, smokes a hive just before extracting honey in this 2006 Gleaner file photo.
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More than a third of food eaten globally depends on natural pollinators – especially bees – for a successful harvest. And with honeybees dying at an alarmingly high rate in the United States since 2006, the more than a decade-long die-off could put food supplies at risk. Bee colonies have been collapsing due to parasites, diseases, poor nutrition, and pesticides, among other factors.

The existential threat also brings along another reality: a reduced supply of honey.

And if the words of Odette Green, founder and director of Beetique Industries, are anything to go by, taking the step into the world of beekeeping could help Jamaicans consume healthier foods and cash in on some extra earnings.

Green told The Gleaner on Sunday that a United States bee-farming association is seeking to entice Jamaicans to supply the country with honey due to the declining honeybee stock and she is extending an invitation to interested Jamaicans to learn the art of beekeeping.

“The aim is to preserve the bee population and people’s livelihood in Jamaica. Because of genetically modified organisms and the use of chemicals, the international bee population is dying. [Pollinators] and honeycombs are becoming scarce. I recently was part of a meeting, where the beekeeping association from the States is trying to corner Jamaican farmers into contract to supply them with honey exclusively,” she said.

Green has since been on a mission to educate Jamaicans so they can begin raking in dollars from bees instead of seeing them as a nuisance.

“People see them as pests. Without bees, you cannot have a thriving agricultural industry. They pollinate the fruits, [and] they ensure enzymes and minerals get into fruits and foods,” she said.

“People have been complaining locally and overseas that the taste of foods has changed,” she added.

Intercropping

She pointed the finger at Jamaica’s largely monoculture ­– the cultivation of a single crop in a given area – style of farming, similar to the US as the reason for this. She said intercropping would help to stem this and could also help provide even more income for farmers.

“I am trying to encourage youngsters and pensioners who are at home doing nothing, as well as the disabled community to get into beekeeping by planting the necessary flowers like lavender and also use the products from the fields to do oils and so on like lavender oil.

“Also, when they raise the bees, we educate them on the different ways they can earn from. If you have five acres and you choose to do a vineyard, and you choose to do grapes, in between the grapes, you would have plants like hyssop and lavender and whatever other plants that help the grapes and bees to thrive.”

Such intercropping would also create a hostile environment for a number of harmful pests, thereby providing natural protection for the crops.

“You would not have them in the field, so you won’t need chemicals and fertilisers and so on. The crops that you plant between the grapes will work to get rid of all the pests that normally would plague the grapes. That is how intercropping works. Say you have worms, and so on, that would attack grapes, if there is lavender around, they can’t manage the scent from the lavender, so they will not attack your grapes. The lavender would prevent the worms from lingering. So, like if you plant the oil nut tree in certain areas, you would prevent rats from coming on to your property. If you don’t put chemicals in your field, it will not affect your crops and kill them. That is why the US has basically lost their bee industry, because everything they do is with chemical.

“We need to re-educate the population, introducing them to the benefits of beekeeping and the profits they can get from it. You don’t have to leave your job to start. I am encouraging people to plant around their homes.

“Our cosmetic industry uses a lot of essential oils that we have to import because we don’t really do it here – like the lavender and pimento oils – they import them. Beetique is the place to have your oils done, have your oils or you want the oils to be done, you can send it to us, and we do the distillation and dehydration for you, and we get the market for you. All we need you to do is create the environment for the bees to thrive and that is basically what it is about,” she said.

jason.cross@gleanerjm.com