Changing beekeepers’ mindsets

Two innovative products are currently being introduced into the local beekeeping market by Arkadiki Melissokomia. The Greek company has been importing products to support beekeepers on the island since 2012.

As we were getting acquainted, the conversation soon turned to a change in the local mindset which has to accompany technological innovation, if the local industry is to flourish.

“We bring (to Cyprus) anything that a beekeeper may need,” Dimitrios Nikitopoulos, tells me. With its offices in Nicosia, Arkadiki Melissokomia is a member of the European Beekeeping Company.

Equipment can be anything from uniforms, gloves, hives and foodstuffs, including its most recent import, the APISAFE Beehive GPS Tracker which is aiming to prevent the increase in hive thefts across the island.

Initially focussing its services towards the island’s bigger commercial beekeepers (producers with 1,000 hives and over – who are very few in number), the company has seen a changing trend, leading them to offer support to smaller producers who work with up to 50 hives as a part-time business or hobby.

“Over the past year there has been a vast increase in the number of beekeepers in Greece – which has tripled in the past five years. The financial crisis has enticed many to get involved, so we thought that we had to re-evaluate the Cypriot market too,” says Nikitopoulos.

“The financial crisis of the past two years has also given an opportunity for newcomers to start with five to 20 hives and get to know what it’s all about.” In this light, Nikitopoulos clearly defines the pros and cons of the local beekeeping potential: these facts have lent themselves to the company’s current stance towards the profession and directed their business policy.

“The Cyprus market has advantages and disadvantages. Disadvantages include transportation costs due to the fact that we are an island, but also the pricing of products which lean towards the high end when compared to places such as Greece.

“The weather conditions don’t help either. There is a very small period where the flowers are blossoming because spring is very short and the summer heat comes abruptly. Also, for a bee to survive and make honey, it needs water and rain. Due to the drought over the past two years, beekeepers in Cyprus have produced very little honey,” adds Nikitopoulos.

Nikitopoulos says the company operates with various methods to accommodate and factor in the island’s limitations.

“One is with the provision of general products and the other is that our company does not import products that are already produced here in Cyprus.

“For example, we will never bring Greek thyme honey to sell in Cyprus: there is an abundance of thyme honey here and beekeepers, whether they are my clients or not, have to have the potential to sell it at competitive prices,” he adds.

“We bring them (apiarists) into contact with clients who want to buy products, such as pollen, honey, as well as swarms.

“A new beekeeper who is just starting will need bees and a queen which we can bring them from Greece but we don’t do this; first for the abovementioned reasons but also because the Cyprus bee, due to the weather conditions and environment, differs from bees in Greece.”

New approaches

Nikitopoulos has many insights into the statistics and business standpoints of the local market. Yet our focus shifts to the disappearance of bees on a worldwide level. We exchange insights on what needs to be done in order to preserve them and manage beekeeping on a sustainable level.

“The bee is disappearing in some areas of the world and this has an effect on beekeeping but also on agricultural practices in general,” says Nikitopoulos.

“We have a friend in Greece who deals with the biological production of olives, who coincidently brought bees to his fields and noticed that the production rose on average by 15%,” reveals Nikitopoulos. “It is scientifically proven that the bee, beyond the fact that pollination cannot take place without her, also favours agriculture,” he adds.

We discuss the subsidising of commercial chemicals by some countries; a practice Nikitopoulos says is carried out in the European Union and in Cyprus. This is in direct contrast to efforts being made to biologically sustain beekeeping and protect the local species.

“Getting subsidy for chemicals is very easy, but at the same time, subsidies aren’t being given to educate farmers on how to use these chemicals properly, or to propose alternative methods of therapies to any given disease,” says Nikitopoulos.

To this end, Nikitopoulos asserts that organic farming of bees is almost non-existent in Cyprus, but for other reasons too.

“Biological honey cannot be produced in Cyprus. One of the reasons is that due to small distances you cannot get accredited (for biological honey) because in a three-kilometre radius you can’t confirm that no one has sprayed with non-accredited chemical products,” he explains.

Arkadiki Melissokomia is a profit making company and is aware that the good conditions and prosperity of the local beekeeping industry will, in the long-run, be profitable for them. The company has recently begun to gather expression of interest by budding apiarists and will organise a series of 12 subsidised lectures over the summer. The educational programme will give people the opportunity to learn more about an array of issues concerning beekeeping and honey production.

“We have started collecting expressions of interest for people – young and old – who are interested in subsidised seminars during the summer when it is down time for beekeepers with a series of 12 lessons.

“It’s a challenge to change mindsets,” admits Nikitopoulos, yet, “with new tools that do not destroy classical, traditional practices of beekeeping and with improvement we can make our lives easier, reduce production costs and increase production.”

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