Fri | Jun 25, 2021

Cescil Willis | Harnessing the apiculture industry

Published:Sunday | May 23, 2021 | 12:14 AM
Cescil Willis
Cescil Willis
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Honeybees are big money makers for the agriculture sector. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in 2019, the value of the US Honey Industry was over US$339 million. According to a Jamaica Information Service report, the Ministry of Agriculture values the Jamaican apiculture industry at just over J$2 billion, with an estimated ROI of 23 per cent. Our apiculture industry has been on a significant growth trajectory over the last five years, but we have yet to develop a competitive advantage in satisfying the local and international demands of honey and other products of the hive. These products, if exploited, can be beneficial to the country’s GDP.

BENEFITS BEYOND THE HIVE

Beeswax

From an economic standpoint, beeswax is the second most important hive product. Beeswax is popular for making candles and has its uses in the pharmaceutical industry as a binding agent, a time-release mechanism, and a drug carrier. Beeswax is also one of the most common waxes used in the cosmetics industry. To date, we have yet to take full advantage of this product as a large portion of the beeswax produced is used in the industry to provide foundation sheets for the development of the honeycomb.

Honeybees as Pollinators

The greatest importance of honeybees to the agriculture industry isn’t a product of the hive, but their work as crop pollinators. There is a symbiotic relationship between bees and trees - when trees flower, bees pollinate.

In 2019, the Government launched the biggest tree-planting drive in the history of modern Jamaica. The Three Million Trees in Three Years project aimed to build climate resilience and protect local watersheds. Honeybees can be a valuable pollinator of these orchards. Pollination by honeybees increases the quality and quantity of seed production, increases the rate of germination and, therefore, increases the growth rate of plants. Honeybee pollination is also known to increase the production of traditional fruit trees such as mangoes, avocados, and guineps.

In the United States, bees are rented from the farmers and placed on large orchards to aid pollination. Pollination services to farmers are valued at approximately US$15 billion, according to an FDA report. In contrast, pollination services in Jamaica are offered to farmers for free, and there is no formal arrangement for the service.

Bee Venom

Many persons are afraid of getting stung by bees, but bee venom has been clinically proven to be beneficial in the treatment of various ailments.

Usually when one is stung, the bee sting has a barb that is lodged in the skin. In an effort to release itself, the bee pulls from the skin, tearing out its intestines in the process and dying shortly thereafter.

This venom can be harvested without harming the bee by use of a venom collector. A venom collector is an electro-magnetic device that traps the bee venom on a glass when the bee is aggravated. The venom is then safely removed and packaged for use in pharmaceuticals to treat rheumatoid arthritis, nerve pain, and desensitisation of persons who have allergic reactions to bee venom, among many other conditions. Bee venom currently retails at US$300 per ounce.

ROLE OF CASE

We recognise the importance of honeybees to the environment and our economic stability. In light of this, we are playing our part to have a positive impact on the apiculture industry in Jamaica. Given the importance of the sector, the college made a consorted effort to expand its apiculture unit with grant funding from the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica (EFJ). We were able to increase our colony count from 77 in 2019 to 250 currently. These 250 colonies represent five commercial units of 50 colonies, with the potential to employ five graduates full time and 10 students on a part-time basis.

Certification

Presently, the apiculture certification at CASE is an elective within the Faculty of Food and Agriculture. CASE has partnered with the HEART TRUST to develop and administer Level Two training for beekeepers. In addition, our research division is actively engaged in preliminary work to identify the market needs for higher certification in apiculture. Once the needs have been identified, the college will move swiftly to respond to those needs with advanced certification in apiculture establishment and management.

Honey-Processing Plant

A portion of the grant from the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica (EFJ) is assisting the college to construct and equip a Bureau of Standards-certified honey-processing plant. The addition of this facility will improve our apiculture curriculum, prepare our students for the workforce, and encourage them to take advantage of the entrepreneurial benefits of beekeeping.

The Portland Bee Farmers will also benefit from the new facility. They will be able to process, bottle, and label their honey for the local and export markets in accordance with the Bureau of Standards regulations. The Portland Beekeepers Association has made CASE its home since 1997 and has benefited tremendously from training and extension services from the CASE Apiculture Unit.

A third phase of the EFJ project will place emphasis on product development using honey and other selected products of the hive.

Beekeeping Revolving Scheme

The scheme evolved out of the apiculture elective that is offered through the Faculty of Food and Agriculture, where the most outstanding student is incentivised with a colony of bees.

The revolving bee scheme provides start-up colonies for CASE students and staff to establish their own apiary with bees from the CASE bee nursery. The beneficiaries will be provided with five frames of bees and a queen. When the hives are fully established and the first crop of honey is harvested, five frames of bees will be returned to the pool to ensure that another beneficiary receives start-up.

All the bees will be distributed from a specially designed apiary dedicated to the beekeeping revolving scheme. Each beneficiary must follow established guidelines for formal registration with the Apiculture Unit of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, complete training provided by the CASE apiculture unit and become a member of a parish beekeepers association. The scheme was officially launched on Thursday, May 6, 2021 and ten persons were awarded with their colony of bees.

THE FUTURE

Our goal is to reach 1,000 bee colonies representing 20 fifty-colony apiaries over the next four years. This will help CASE to employ 20 of its graduates, provide part-time employment for an additional 10 students, increase our training capacity for commercial bee production and the potential to earn over J$50 million in revenue.

Cescil Willis is an apiculture specialist. Send feedback to cescil.willis@case.edu.jm or publicrelations@case.edu.jm.