Beekeeping In Venezuela – An Unprecedented Crisis
Pedro Conteras explains:
In the last 50 years, beekeeping in Venezuela has presented a strong decrease in production that is maintained during the first years of the 70s. Also, conditioned by the effect caused by the economic crisis that the country is going through in the last five years, Beekeeping is going through, perhaps, its toughest stage. Next, we will focus on describing the most prominent causes of the beekeeping crisis in Venezuela.
The History of Venezuelan beekeeping
From long before the Spanish colonization in the “Land of Grace”, the Venezuelan aborigines were already working in raising stingless bees until about 1565. From this year, Venezuelan bees (Apis mellifera) began to suffer from miscegenation between the Apis mellifera Iberica and the Apis m. mellifera, breeds of bees brought by the Spaniards. In this way, the use of bees as honey producers in the Caribbean country began.
However, in the mid 20th century, a new breed, the Apis m. lingustica was introduced in the country, like the Apis m. Scutellata Thus, the first specimens of Africanized bees appeared (a kind of poly-hybrid among all the races of bees mentioned), which were gradually introduced in each colony, becoming a determining factor for the beekeeping crisis in Venezuela.
The beekeeping crisis in Venezuela
In the early 1970s, Venezuela produced about 1,500 metric tons of honey per year. That is, 25 kilograms of honey were produced annually on a hive. Venezuela was a country capable of covering domestic demand for honey, thus becoming a honey bee exporting country.
However, in 2001 these numbers fall dramatically, changing the landscape: 296 metric tons were produced at a rate of 20 kg per year in each hive. But a slight recovery occurs 11 years later, in 2012, when production increases to 700 tons. But by 2012, the demand for honey was close to 1,700 tons per year. However, there are no updated figures by government agencies to measure the current market.
The decrease in the production of honey in Venezuela may be due to any of the following factors mentioned below.
Africanization of bees
Most hives were originally located near the housing of Venezuelan beekeepers. It was easier for them to produce honey near their homes, reaching more than a thousand hives in one place. Such was the close relationship of beekeepers with their work that there were up to 94,000 modern hives in Venezuela during the 1970s. However, Africanized bees were taking control of hives and Venezuelan beekeepers were not prepared for it.
Given their worldwide known aggressiveness, human deaths from attacks by Africanized bees increased. As a result, a strong campaign against these insects and their production emerged, discouraging the beekeeping and causing a significant reduction in the existence of modern hives and, therefore, the production of honey. Today, it is estimated that there are between 15,000 and 20,000 modern hives, causing a shortage of honey in the nation and forcing its importation.
The import of production materials
Throughout Venezuelan oil history (except for the last five years), the Venezuelan economy has been supported by revenues from oil exports. This has motivated that the majority of products and materials used by the farmers of any sector (cattle, birds, fish, crops, and bees), are imported and, therefore, more expensive. As a consequence, the prices of the final products produced in Venezuela end up being more expensive than an imported one, even in beekeeping.
Price increase derived from the importation of materials
Excellent is the price of honey produced in Venezuela. Honey in Venezuela has gone from $2.50 per Kilogram in the early 2000s, to cost between $10 and $15 per kilo in recent years. While in Mexico, for example, the price of honey ranges between 1.70 and 2.50 USD per kilo.
Lower beekeeping culture
In Venezuela, talking about being a beekeeper is imagining that someone will spend their lives dealing with bee stings while harvesting honey. While it is true that beekeeping is not just about harvesting honey, in this Latin American country there is no good knowledge of this sector. People are unaware of the potential that exists in products derived from bees, such as royal jelly, apitoxin, pollen, wax, and even liquor and honey vinegar.
Fake bee products
The beekeeping market in Venezuela, especially honey, has been visibly threatened by the proliferation of adulterated products that generate distrust in consumers. For example, in the streets of Venezuela, it is common to find adulterated honey with sucrose and tartrazine.
How to improve beekeeping in Venezuela
The solution to the crisis seems to have a simple answer, but one that requires a great joint effort: to create a program where beekeepers, businessmen, and government are involved; where the necessary initiatives to create medium and long-term solutions are considered.
Education is the best means to combat the beekeeping crisis in Venezuela. Therefore, it is considered that the impact of an education-oriented measure on beekeeping would be much more notable and positive in the market, than an economic measure that favors the sector for a few months.