SOME TIME in 1998 Mr. Reginald Peddy, director of the Ministry of Agriculture's All-Island Beekeeping Development Project, told me that bee-keeping contributed more to agriculture than any other sub-sector - as much as $1.8 billion.
That figure included the value of the honey and other products; the infrastructure; the then 40,000 hives and the contribution of pollination, which is estimated at 15 to 20 times the other values.
That was eight years ago so you would imagine that that figure has grown substantially by now. You'd be wrong. When I checked with him last week he felt it should be about the same; which is to say it has in fact shrunken after inflation has been factored in.
And so it has. From 40,000 hives in 1998 the industry has declined by 50 per cent to just about 20,000. This is due to a combination of events that include the infestation of the Varoa mite in 1999 and hurricanes 'Lilli' and 'Isidore' in 2002 and 'Ivan' in 2004. Thousands of hives were directly destroyed by the mites while the hurricanes acted in a more indirect method - the defoliation of the forests. This resulted in many colonies dying from starvation.
The curious thing in all of this is the fact that honey production, instead of reflecting a corresponding decline, has increased from 102,000 gallons in 1998 to 104,000 gallons in 2005. According to Mr. Peddy this was a result of bee-keepers adopting improved technologies in production.
Those individuals who made the investment are now reaping a tidy harvest as the price for honey has also moved up from $150 per quart to between $500 and $700 per quart.
Honey is expensive stuff. And yet it is one of the cheapest of all the products derived from bee-keeping except perhaps beeswax. One of the more expensive products is bee pollen which is what I really I want to look at, but have taken so long to come to.
The demand for this product is bound to increase dramatically after the publication in the Outlook magazine recently of Dr. Heather Little-White's article 'The truth about bee pollen and sex'. You only need to hint that a product has properties that can increase sexual performance and Jamaican men will be beating down your door for it. The article didn't hint, it declared that bee pollen 'contains natural hormonal substances that stimulate the male and female reproductive system to enhance sexual performance'.
A lot of persons already knew this, but it was never well known, and so the production of bee pollen has been restricted to a few beekeepers. As such, the demand has always outstripped the supply, hence the high price for it. A six-ounce bottle of bee pollen has been known to go for as much as J$650.
Bee pollen has been used from ancient times to treat arthritis, hay fever, prostate problems and other ailments as well as for general good nutrition. It is the male sperm cells of flowering plants and is collected by bees to feed their young. Indeed the protein provided by it is essential to the growth and development of the bee in the first six days of the larval stage.
The pollen collected for this purpose is not the one blown by the wind to fertilise other flowering plants. The bees search for and collect sticky pollen that is too heavy to be wind borne. They then add nectar and saliva to it to neutralise and destroy any allergic property as only pure food can be served to the larvae.
Bee pollen is collected by placing a special device in the hive box through which the bees have to crawl to get to the storage area.
Some of the pollen is brushed off their loaded hind legs to fall into a collection drawer that is later retrieved by the bee-keeper. The pollen is allowed to dry naturally so as not to deactivate the enzymes present. They are then cleaned and prepared for marketing.
Most of the persons who are users of bee pollen will testify to its remarkable healing properties and its ability to reduce stress and anxiety. I have no doubt that a lot more will be seeking it out for its ability to increase sexual vigour.
Hugh Martin is a communication consultant and farm broadcaster at firstname.lastname@example.org