On Monday, 20 May, Slovenia and the entire world will celebrate the second World Bee Day, which the UN General Assembly proclaimed on 20 December 2017. The proclamation, which is the result of cooperation between the Slovenian Beekeeping Association (the initiator of the proposal) and the Republic of Slovenia, is one of Slovenia’s greatest diplomatic achievements. The main purpose of World Bee Day is to raise global awareness about the importance of bees and other pollinators for humankind, particularly with respect of fighting world hunger.
The importance of bees and pollinators in general
Bees and other pollinators are increasingly threatened due to intensive agriculture, diseases, mass use of phytopharmaceuticals and climate change. World Bee Day is therefore an opportunity for beekeepers, politicians, the business sector and the general public to work together to preserve bees, and to aid in the development of beekeeping, sustainable development and the preservation of biodiversity, and to plan activities that promote the survival of bees and humans.
The importance of bees and pollinators to the environment
There are around 20,000 different bee species on our planet, of which the honeybee is the one we are most familiar with. They are extremely important for preserving the natural balance, to which they contribute by pollinating plants. By providing the ecosystem service of cross-pollinating unrelated plants, they ensure the reproduction and biodiversity of countless cultivated and wild plant species. Pollinators are also a good bio-indicator of conditions in the environment. By studying their development and health status, we can determine when something is happening in the environment and that appropriate action is needed. However, bees have been increasingly threatened lately.
Pollinators and empowering rural women (the main theme of this year’s celebration)
In developing countries, where the survival of smallholders and family farms is significantly more dependent on agriculture than in developed countries, pollinators and the free pollination services they provide are a necessary condition for a varied and rich harvest. Women play a crucial role in ensuring that this harvest feeds families and communities. Without their careful management of family income and resources, the food security of countless families would be seriously threatened. Despite their significant contribution, the elimination of inequality and obstacles to accessing natural and production resources and knowledge remains a challenge, which is specifically addressed in the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. Therefore the empowerment of women and women beekeepers represents extraordinary development potential, particularly in the area of sustainable agriculture and rural development, and the production of varied and high-quality food.
Research and innovation
Research, innovation, education and information sharing will be crucial for the future development of this area, and for the development of agriculture and food cultivation in general. The preservation and protection of pollinators and the sustainable development of beekeeping will require the introduction of new (green) technologies, monitoring the status of bees and other pollinators, and providing the necessary diagnostics of bee diseases in order to determine the causes of the decline and even loss of bee colonies and other pollinators, continuous education about preventive measures and measures to suppress diseases and pests, and ensuring an immediate response to them.
What has Slovenia done for beekeeping in the past year?
- On the initiative of the Slovenian Beekeeping Association, the Slovenian Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food (MAFF) will submit an initiative to the European Commission to amend the EU directive on honey with regard to the labelling of mixed honey by country of origin.
- The Beekeeping Academy of Slovenia was established in 2018 to promote the exchange of beekeeping knowledge in Slovenia and around the world.
- The MAFF is drafting a strategic plan for the implementation of the Common Agricultural Policy – the resolution Our Food, Rural Areas and Natural Resources after 2021 – which will also include proposals for measures to reduce the threat to bees and wild pollinators.
- In March 2019, the MAFF sent the European Commission a new three-year programme of measures in the area of beekeeping for the 2020-2022 period, which it drafted in cooperation with a working group of beekeeping specialists.
- Under the Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, the ministry supported three beekeeping projects in 2019 at a total value of EUR 304,000.
- In May 2018, the ministry adopted the Measures to Reduce the Threat to Bees and Other Pollinators, with the goal of establishing and maintaining numerically appropriate populations of honeybees and preserving the size and diversity of wild pollinator populations, and the Development of Excellence in Beekeeping programme.
- In 2018, as part of the targeted research programme “Providing Food for Tomorrow”, the MAFF selected the project Determining Losses in Beekeeping; the goal is to develop a methodology for assessing losses in beekeeping resulting from declines in honey flow, to draft proposed measures to prevent losses and reduce losses of income in beekeeping and to study the possibilities for providing insurance against losses in beekeeping.
- In connection with the problems with the system of beekeeping pasture regulations and conflicts of interest between beekeepers, the MAFF held meetings with beekeepers’ representatives and agreed to define the system of beekeeping pasture regulations in the new Livestock Farming Act, which is currently being drafted.
- The ministry works closely with the Ministry of Finance regarding the reimbursement of beekeepers for excise duties for energy products that they use for transport and care of bee colonies.
- The ministry supports the initiative of the Slovenian Beekeepers Association for the development of professional standards and a catalogue of professional knowledge for apitherapists, and therefore assigned the Sectoral Committee for Medicine and Social Welfare to evaluate the initiative.
- The ministry is working closely with the Ministry of Health on a proposed amendment to the law, which would relieve providers of supplementary activities of the requirement of paying contributions for health insurance as set out in Article 55(a) of the Healthcare and Health Insurance Act.
- The MAFF is also working to introduce a lower VAT rate for medicinal products, through which beekeepers would be given the same conditions as other livestock farmers, who pay lower (9.5%) VAT for medicinal products for treating their livestock.
- In addition, due to professional revision, the ministry adopted an amendment to the breeding programme for the Carniolan honey bee in 2019.
- We amended the Rules on Mead and Sparkling Mead, and communicated them to the public.
In addition to these measures, on 9 May 2019 the Slovenian government adopted the Plan of Activities for the project World Bee Day until 2022, through which Slovenia hopes to maintain the public’s attention and increase the awareness in Slovenia and abroad on the importance of bees and other pollinators. The priority tasks include raising awareness of the importance of bees and other pollinators, introducing measures to reduce the threat to honeybees and wild pollinators, and to increase the global promotion of World Bee Day, Slovenian beekeeping, and Slovenia itself.
Significant activities for this year’s World Bee Day
- The main celebration of the World Bee Day in Slovenia will take place at various locations at the sports centre and the castle park in Ravne na Koroškem on Saturday, 18 May 2019. The event is organised by the Koroška Beekeepers Association in cooperation with the Slovenian Beekeepers Association and under the honorary patronage of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food.
- A roundtable on the topic of bees will be held in the Slovenian National Assembly on Monday, 20 May, which will include representatives of the Slovenian Beekeepers Association, state secretary at the MAFF Tanja Strniša, representatives of the Urban Beekeeper society, President of the Swiss National Council Marina Carobbio Guscetti, and Swiss artist, director and beekeeping advocate Marcus Imhoof. The roundtable will be hosted by the President of the Slovenian National Assembly Dejan Židan.
- The main event at the international level will be held on 20 May at the FAO headquarters in Rome. On the occasion, Minister Pivec will speak to the roundtable participants about raising awareness on the role of bees and pollinators in agriculture and food production, which is organised by the FAO and the MAFF. The roundtable will include beekeeping experts and representatives of various beekeeping organisations. The emphasis of this year’s celebration is the empowerment of women through beekeeping, and therefore the minister will also meet with representatives of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women.
- Alongside the event at the FAO headquarters in Rome, Slovenia hopes to bring the importance of the message of World Bee Day to the Holy See and to present a Slovenian beehive to the Pope.
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INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT BEES AND BEEKEEPING (source: Statistical Office of the Republic of Slovenia)
- The honey harvest depends on the weather
Honey production varies considerably from year to year. Beekeeping is extremely weather-dependent. The weather conditions were good in 2018, and Slovenia produced 1,746 tons of honey, which is 10% higher than the average for the last ten years.
- Where do we export Carniolan grey bees?
Slovenia exported EUR 47,000 worth of bees in 2018, mainly to the Near East and Japan. Lebanon imported EUR 20,000 worth, and Japan EUR 18,000. Total bee exports more than tripled relative to the previous three years.
- Slovenia compared to other EU countries by number of hives
The total number of hives in the European Union has been growing in recent years, and stood at 15.7 million in 2016. In Slovenia there were 167,000, or 1.1%. The largest numbers of hives in the EU in 2016 were kept by beekeepers in Spain, Greece and France.
- Number of beekeepers in Slovenia growing
The number of beekeepers in the EU is falling, but in Slovenia it is growing. It has increased by more than 30% in the last ten years.
- How much land is dedicated for bee pasture
Honey plants in Slovenia include rapeseed, buckwheat and sunflowers. In Slovenia in 2018, rapeseed was planted on nearly 3,400 ha, buckwheat on 3,500 ha, and sunflowers on 300 ha. Buckwheat surface coverage was nearly three times larger than it was in 2010, and sunflower coverage increased by 42%. However, rapeseed coverage was 36% lower than it was in 2010.
- Did you know that:
- the average beekeeper in Slovenia had 17 hives in 2016
- Slovenian beekeepers produced 31 tons of organic honey in 2017
- there were 210 beekeeping associations, federations and societies in Slovenia in 2017