Apimondia 2017 - Istanbul

When I heard that Apimondia was to be held in Turkey, I was very excited. I have been wanting to visit Turkey to learn a bit about how they went from not even being considered as a honey producing country, to number 2 in the world.

Furthermore, I have always wanted to visit Istanbul, the city that has been so important geographically and historically. Besides it’s delicious food, Istanbul, historically known as Constantinople and Byzantium, is the most populous city in Turkey and the country's economic, cultural, and historic center. It straddles Europe and Asia across the Bosphorus Strait. Its Old City reflects cultural influences of the many empires that once ruled here. In the Sultanahmet district, the open-air, Roman-era Hippodrome was for centuries the site of chariot races, and Egyptian obelisks also remain. The iconic Byzantine Hagia Sophia features a soaring 6th-century dome and rare Christian mosaics. It was the city where the Roman emperor, Constantine, declared Christianity to be the religion of the empire. Constantine's decision to cease the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire was a turning point for Early Christianity.

The Apimondia conference was very well organised by the organising committee that included representation from the central Turkish Beekeeping Association, the Turkish Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock, the Turkish Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs, and various universities. The scientific committee was made up of Apimondia representation from all over the world. Besides a fascinating exhibition, well represented by Muslim countries, of the latest technologies, there was a fascinating scientific programme that covered the following topics: Beekeeping Economy, Bee Biology, Bee Health, Pollination and Bee Flora, Beekeeping Technology and Quality, Apitherapy, Beekeeping for Rural Development. The book of abstracts can be downloaded from: Apimondia 2017 Abstract book I submitted a poster, and presented a talk as part of the Beekeeping for Rural Development section. The poster and slide show can be downloaded from Training manuals for those interested.

The Turkish government was very supportive, and bussed Turkish beekeepers in to the conference throughout the programme. Although the technical tours were rather disappointing, I arrived a day earlier and managed to visit some beekeepers close to Istanbul. Three predominant types of hive seem to be used by the beekeepers: (1) The beautiful traditional log hives, some of which were quite sophisticated, including bark rolled into circles that acted as frames. (2) Langstroth hives with clips to hold supers together and sophisticated floors and lids developed for various purposes including pollen and propolis collection. I was surprised at the amount of plastic equipment that I saw. (3) Russian hives that look similar to top-bar hives with frames. These were quite neat, in that they were like trunks with hinged lids. At one of the places we went on the technical tours, we saw a truck with 190 of these hives. The beekeepers lived inside the truck and monitored the hives from within. Each hive was rigged with a thermostat and heater to ensure that hive temperatures never dropped below 35˚C.

I loved the Anatolian bees that I saw. They were bigger than our bee, and sort of buzz around in a friendly way. We (a group of 5 beekeepers and I) opened about 30 hives with flimsy veils and no gloves (I had shorts on), and no one got stung. The bees seem to understand colour, and human shapes because the beekeepers place the hives right next to each other without having the same problem with drifting like we do. I was impressed by the queen rearing and artificial insemination programmes that were being run alongside with honeybee conservation projects.

On one of our technical tours, we visited a very impressive honey processing and packing plant just outside Istanbul. Everything was impressive, from its sheer size, the number of people who were employed there, the laboratories and so on. What most impressed me was the bee plant book that we were given, that contains information and photographs of the plants and flowers, and even the pollen. Their traceability system is so sophisticated that a customer can scan a QR code on a jar of honey and see what plants contribute to their batch of honey. They were however impressed with the African Honey Bee traceability system that can be viewed on honey tracability

The three main differences between South African and Turkish beekeeping are as follows:

  1. No theft - The Turks were confused when we told them about our problems with vandalism and theft – it simply is not part of their culture. There seems to be no problem of vandalism or theft at all. A Nigerian guy spoke about how he had developed metal stands, with chains and padlocks to protect his hives, and a Turkish beekeeper stood up and asked him, what he meant by hive vandalism and theft – he couldn’t comprehend the concept.
  2. Beekeeping associations – One official told me that the Turks had started with a cooperative model for beekeeper development twenty years ago, but soon steered away because they saw how difficult it was to get them to work. Instead they helped established hundreds of beekeeping associations. Village associations were represented in regional associations, which ,in turn, were represented at a provincial level, which were represented nationally. Quite a structure considering that Turkey has 81 provinces.
  3. Supportive government – Similar to the New Zealand Manuka success story, Turkish beekeepers are well supported by their government. It is amazing to see what can happen to an industry when the government supports it in constructive ways. Similar to our approach at African Honey Bee, of many beekeepers with a few hives each, the Turkish government has focussed on providing technical, scientific, logistic, value chain, and internal and export marketing support to lots of beekeepers through their associations. Pollination services are unheard of, because there are so many hives. All the beekeepers I met practiced permanent apiary beekeeping, and ,as a result, diseases and pests are effectively controlled. Nothing is given away free, and beekeepers need to prove commitment to receive support. A national register of beehives is kept, and, again, managed through the associations. Apiary sites are made available on government land, and the ministry plants bee friendly flora.

All in all, it was an incredible trip – both from a historic perspective, and a beekeeping perspective. I just wish that our South African government had also had representation at the Apimondia in Turkey, so they could see what is possible if the right kind of support is provided to an industry to enable it to grow and flourish.

By Guy Stubbs

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