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Too good to export? Jamaica’s honey stays at home

In The Courier No. 116, the CTA published an article on the utility and value of beekeeping by the International Bee Research Association. This article shows how the advice can be put into practice.

The buzzing of insects is not incompatible with life on a sub-tropical island. But bees in Jamaica? Long associated with more temperate climates, beekeeping became the object of a Ministry of Agriculture study back in 1981 which went to the Administrative Staff College for a theoretical projection, and by 1983 became the object of a feasibility study. The long gestation period is due at least in part to the complexity of Jamaica’s social and economic problems and to the need to harmonise rural development, youth employment, import substitution and good management in the framework. Thus the Ministry of Agriculture was joined by the Ministry of Youth and Community Development in a detailed project presided over by the Planning Institute of Jamaica. A grant- under Lom funding- was sought in 1985 and became effective on I February 1987. The sum involved was ECU 805 000 for a pilot project covering four parishes. A West German consultancy, Atlanta Consult, provides the technical assistance.

Beekeeping is not new to Jamaica. The area chosen for the pilot project- the parishes of Clarendon, Manchester, St Elizabeth and St Catherine- was selected precisely because there is a history of small-scale beekeeping and because the area has the right sort of vegetation for bees. Indeed, one component of the project, research, has underlined two major advantages for beekeeping’s future on the island. Firstly, the botanical survey has demonstrated that Jamaica is home to a wide variety of plants which bees seem to like, many of them not yet identified. Of course the verses of childhood depict the bees “flitting from flower to flower” but poetry cuts little ice in the marketplace. For a long time, monofloral honeys (honey gathered from a single floral source, such as heather) are more highly valued, and the project has stimulated the search for a monofloral source.

The second major advantage for Jamaica’s beekeepers is the relative absence of major pests and diseases affecting bees. Indeed, apart from American Foulbrood (normally a disease associated with overcrowding in the hive), none of the world’s major diseases have yet appeared in Jamaica. The project, however, has not rested on the island’s laurels in this regard, but is organising seminars and training courses for beekeepers to enable them to spot and resist pests and diseases should they occur.

The project, whose headquarters are at Mandeville in the parish of Manchester, is aimed at creating and reinforcing a number of smallholders, rather than establishing an “ industry “. Two main types of “ client “ exist; the small beekeepers, with an average of 45 colonies, whose beekeeping is complementary to other, more lucrative, agricultural activity, and small commercial enterprises with an average of 70 to 90 colonies.

Project co m portents

In order to achieve the objectives (increased honey production through better management with regard to beekeeping and economics) the project includes various sub-programmes:

- an extension programme for new and established beekeepers,
- a credit programme funding the purchase of hives and other apiary inputs,
- a programme providing training (by the extension specialist) for beekeeping extension officers and youth trainers,
- a research programme concentrating on practical subjects that have immediate application to beekeeping management,
- a marketing programme targeted at possible markets and market channels for honey and other bee products, - the organisation of an islandwide Beekeepers’ Association,
- training young people in beekeeping through trainers and the facilities of the Ministry of Youth and Community Development (under the supervision of the project),
- technical assistance for training beekeeping officers, and monitoring the extension service and initiating a research programme.

The extension programme

There are four beekeeping extension officers, one in each parish. Extension work is mainly done through non-residential courses either at the four demonstration apiaries within the project area or at apiaries of established beekeepers.

The beekeeping extension officers visit beekeepers on a regular basis, in order to

- assess their work progress,
- monitor the use of loans, and
- help to solve problems and provide information on an individual basis.

The project has now about 350 beekeepers enrolled. This means that nearly all the beekeepers in the project area are co-operating with the project.

At the moment the project is preparing beekeeping pamphlets as well as establishing a library of audiovisual materials including videofilms and synchronised slide sets. These are produced in co-operation with the Learning Resource Centre of the Training Division of the Ministry of Agriculture under the supervision of the extension specialist.

The credit programme

As has already been said, the credit programme was designed to help beekeepers to purchase the necessary equipment. However, most of the beekeepers had difficulties in providing adequate security. This led to a slow take-up of the loans. The project management decided to search for alternatives and after evaluating the credit programme, came up with a new design based in principle on ideas and proposals made by the consulting firm, Atlanta Consult, in their project proposal and on a design outline made by the extension specialist.

The new design envisages active participation by the Beekeepers’ Associations and the establishment of a revolving fund scheme to eliminate the problem of inadequate security.

The training programme

The extension specialist set up initial training in beekeeping for the beekeeping extension officers. This course lasts for seven weeks and includes theoretical as well as practical aspects of beekeeping. Four officers within the Ministry of Agriculture were trained to become beekeeping extension officers.

After the initial training course, follow-up courses are provided by the extension specialist in order to update and evaluate the knowledge of the officers. These follow-up courses are carried out on a bi-monthly basis lasting for three days each. Emphasis is placed on practical matters as well as on the economic side of the beekeeping business.

The beekeeping extension officers in return also provide training to general extension officers, who should have a minimum knowledge of beekeeping.

There is also a part to be played by MYCD personnel in teaching young people beekeeping. Various obstacles however (restructuring of the Ministry, Hurricane “ Gilbert “) made it impossible for the MYCD to stand by its obligations to the full. The project is now seeking a better design for this part of the programme.

The marketing programme

The marketing programme assessed the possibilities of marketing honey and other products from bees inside and outside Jamaica. The actual, production of honey is estimated at 1000 tons per year. The local market is absorbing most of it as the demand ‘ is nowhere near satisfied yet. Exports of honey are only sporadic. In addition, the local market fetches a better price than the world market. Beekeepers therefore are not willing to produce for export.

Other products from bees are not significant at the moment. There is, however, a tendency towards the production of products such as propolis, beeswax, and royal jelly. The project is actively supporting these new enterprises.

The Islandwide Beekeepers’ Association

The project assisted in organising the establishment of the Islandwide Beekeepers’ Association. After initiating associations in the project area, preparations were made to give the beekeepers an opportunity to meet and to set up a steering committee to prepare the launching of the islandwide organisation. This islandwide Association was founded in September, 1989, in the presence of the Minister of State in the Ministry of Agriculture, the Hon. Desmond Leaky, himself a beekeeper.

The management board of the Association has met several times in the meantime and prepared the memoranda and articles necessary to register as an association. Furthermore, they planned several projects to improve their financial basis. The project is funding the association, trying to assist them in their daily work.

In the future, the Association will play an important part in the further development of the project. The project seeks the co-operation of the Association with regard to the credit programme and the extension work.

Ministry of Youth Training Programme

The training programme of the Ministry of Youth and Community Development has been curtailed to some extent as there were substantial changes within the Ministry itself. Furthermore, Hurricane “ Gilbert “ (on September 12, 1988) struck down most of the facilities the MYCD was planning to use. Others were needed as temporary shelter for refugees.

It was only possible to train two officers who are now teaching beekeeping to youngsters. A first training session was held and 34 participants received training.

Nonetheless the project wants to change the design of this part of the programme, including the existing efforts in training youths in beekeeplng.

Technical assistance

The extension specialist trained the extension officers and established the extension service, as well as preparing the necessary extension materials, especially the audiovisuals.

The research specialists initiated the research programme and were always on hand if there was any question to answer or problem to solve.

The future

The project has submitted to Ministry of Agriculture a request to extend the project for 18 months on an islandwide basis. The time would also be used to develop a second phase programme and prepare the necessary documents.

This proposal was completed in the light of a positive evaluation of the project in September, 1989. The evaluation revealed that the project has established a viable and effective extension service, with a pool of wide knowledge and experience in beekeeping. It was also assisting in organising the beekeepers. All in all, the project had a positive impact on the beekeeping industry as such. This is why the evaluation mission recommended the extension of the project.

The project management believes that beekeeping is a small but very efficient enterprise and business. It helps a lot of people in rural areas in Jamaica to make a better living. The project through its extension service assisted in improving the living conditions of farmers by teaching them better and more advanced methods of beekeeping. It hopes now to continue on an islandwide basis. Will it always be true that Jamaica’s honey is too popular at home to warrant an export drive? Perhaps the extension of the programme to the rest of the island will give the outside world a taste of Jamaica’s sweet secret.