Dear Editor: T&T Bee Industry is Dying; here’s how to save it

“Consumers are also choosing contraband honey over higher-quality, pricier local honey, either because they are not interested in quality or because they simply cannot afford it. Beekeepers should not assume that there are enough sufficiently patriotic consumers to purchase their honey just because they see a local apiary number.”

The following Letter to the Editor about threats to the local beekeeping industry was submitted to Wired868 by Alana Abdool:

Photo: Beekeeper holding honeycomb

The Trinidad and Tobago Beekeepers’ Association (TTBA) has recently called for the banning of bee-toxic pesticides as they lead to the death of bee colonies. Even though bees are the most important pollinator for many agricultural crops, local crop farmers opt for these cheaper pesticides as they yield better results. In the long run, Trinidad and Tobago crop farmers and beekeepers will suffer.

Bee colony death is the consequence of a more artificial consumer: the industrialisation of agriculture, developed to meet the needs of burgeoning populations. The consumer, in part, has continued to push the market to industrialisation by demanding food that is produced faster, cleaner and that meets nutritional needs. But it seems that even this last factor can be relinquished for whatever satisfies hunger and insatiable palates.

The rise of the artificial consumer has forced crop farmers to adapt to mass production, overcoming pathogenic infiltration and crop modification. In the US, beekeepers don’t just sell honey and beeswax products, but they also work with crop farmers by renting their hives during pollination periods.

While this adaptation may not be as effective for Trinidad and Tobago beekeepers due to smaller farm sizes, they must either follow the lead of their US counterparts and shift their tactics to deal with the synergies of the artificial consumer and commercialized agriculture or face the death of the industry.

The TTBA also lamented that local apiaries suffer because of a thriving trade in low-quality, contraband honey (honey imports are prohibited under the Beekeeping and Bee Products Act of 1936).

Photo: Honey

Unlike US or South American beekeepers, where some of the illegal honey originates, T&T beekeepers cannot compete with productions of scale much larger than their own. Consumers are also choosing contraband honey over higher-quality, pricier local honey, either because they are not interested in quality or because they simply cannot afford it.

Beekeepers should not assume that there are enough sufficiently patriotic consumers to purchase their honey just because they see a local apiary number. Neither should they assume that local beekeepers will not be tempted to capitalise on the sale of contraband honey too – two factors that effectually render in vain their efforts to motivate consumers to buy from local apiaries.

Seeking to ban bee-toxic pesticides remain relevant, but they must also be prepared to work with governmental agencies to differentiate themselves and their product through more specific quality measurements.

Differentiated quality demands that beekeepers provide consumers a quality guarantee that relies on excellent regulatory structures. Through good advertising, and by highlighting more specific quality measurements to educate consumers about the benefits of local honey, beekeepers can encourage the emergence of discerning consumers.

They must also uphold the integrity of their quality guarantee to maintain their business. This takes hard work, but the benefits of these structures will make capturing similarly discerning consumers outside of Trinidad and Tobago much easier.

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