The congress is an important outcome of a 4-year ACIAR-supported project led by Southern Cross University (SCU) working across Fiji and Papua New Guinea (PNG) in partnership with local agricultural ministries and beekeeping associations to increase the productivity and profitability of smallholder beekeeping enterprises across the two countries.
Project leader from SCU, Dr Cooper Schouten, said the congress will be a milestone for beekeeping across the Pacific, with the event to attract participants from across the region. The project is supporting organisations and farmers in Fiji and PNG to attend, as well as participants from several Pacific islands including Cook Islands, New Caledonia, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Vanuatu, Wallis and Futuna, along with New Zealand and Australia.
‘Bees are an important part of earth's beautiful and essential biodiversity. When most people think of bees, they think of honey, but bees have so much more to offer; they play a critical role in ensuring food and nutrition security through pollination services, honey doesn’t soil readily so it can be sold in times of financial hardship, and while it does require technical skills, it doesn’t require much time, you don't need to own land and the sector has a lot of capacity for climate change adaptation,’ explained Dr Schouten.
‘However, what we continue to see in many countries, including Australia, PNG and Fiji, is too many 'bee havers', with limited technical beekeeping and business skills required to maintain healthy and productive bees, and profitable bee businesses. As a result, attrition among beekeeping adopters is a chronic problem, colony losses are high, and production has a lot of room for growth.’
‘As a team, we are not simply trying to do more beekeeping, but we are conducting research and trialling new approaches to do beekeeping better. Understanding the factors that influence the success and failures of beekeeping for development programs is central to our research which spans pests and diseases, biosecurity, nutrition, genetics, technology, markets, post-harvest handling, education, extension and training, social inclusion and industry research and development strategy with the overall objective of building capacity through research that provides applied solutions for all beekeepers across the Pacific.’
He added that the congress would allow Pacific beekeepers to meet and access information, technical skills, and knowledge to make informed decisions to improve the production for their family businesses and develop local products so that people can benefit from and consume healthy local products.
‘Bees make a lot of other products other than honey, such as beeswax and propolis which can have medicinal values and value can be added to in generating lip balms, candles, soaps, reef safe surf wax and surf zinc,’ added Dr Schouten.
‘This means locally sourced and made products which leads to more business for local producers, diversifying their income sources and enhancing their livelihoods.’
The congress will feature weeklong hands-on activities, industry technical tours and training workshops including hive construction, queen bee breeding, developing bee business brands and marketing, processing beeswax and making beeswax products such as candles, lip balm and beeswax foundation.
‘It's a great opportunity for Pacific islands beekeepers to come together for the first time to share lessons with one another, network, and gain practical skills and knowledge they can take home to implement and share with their industries,’ said Dr Schouten.
‘For new beekeepers, a new bees’ workshop will teach everything from how to buy bees, to lighting a bee smoker and opening a hive for the first time. There will be a whole range of different topics, including round tables on industry research, development and exertion strategy, best practice for beekeeping for development and regional biosecurity challenges for the beekeeping sector.’
Mr Kelly Inae, founder of Helping Hand Honey Producers in Goroka, the capital of the Eastern Highlands Province of PNG, is a project beneficiary and participant of the upcoming Pacific Islands Bee Congress.
‘My life's passion is bees and honey. I always tell young beekeepers that bees have the Midas touch. They are these amazing creatures with so much potential,’ said Mr Inae.
‘I was introduced to the industry in 1976. As a child, I played with honeybees in my village after a missionary introduced the concept of beekeeping, and I learned the basics at a young age. In 1989, my wife and I decided to take up beekeeping as a full-time business. Back then, we did not have many resources on beekeeping, so I collected books from Australia, Canada, and New Zealand and learned how to become a beekeeper.’
Mr Inae added that PNG's Eastern Highlands has the ideal beekeeping climate.
‘Goroka is located 1500 metres above sea level, and anything above 500 metres is an ideal environment for beekeeping and excellent honey production. This was one of my motivating factors for beekeeping, and honey has a long shelf life, which makes it a sustainable product,’ said Mr Inae.
‘Beekeeping is an exciting industry. People will look at bees and fear stings. I recommend for start-up farmers to have a single box and to work with one box to gain confidence, experience, knowledge, and soon they can experience benefits.’
The Eastern Highlands is also renowned for its coffee beans. Mr Inae explained that beekeeping brings benefits to coffee farmers as well.
‘Coffee farming has been instrumental to my successful beekeeping. I have a coffee plot in my farm, and my bees help pollinate the coffee plants boosting their yield and at the same time makes for a sweeter cup of honey infused coffee’.
Mr Inae trains farmers, women's groups and youths on how to start beekeeping and the benefits of value-adding.
‘Value-adding is an important aspect. I teach aspiring beekeepers that honey is not the end goal. Farmers can sell bees, commercial farmers like myself buy four frames for A$85, and for a whole box of bees, farmers can earn A$170. Queen bee breeders make about A$21 per queen bee,’ said Mr Inae.
‘It’s a great way to supplement farmer income, and beeswax foundation sheets are also very marketable. It sells from A$80 depending on the quality, and beeswax is used to create a number of local products such as body lotion, candles, balms, and soap’.
Mr Inae added he was looking forward to participating in the Pacific Islands Beekeeping Congress.
‘This is a first for the Pacific, and I am proud to represent Papua New Guinea beekeepers on a regional stage. I look forward to networking with other Fijian and Pacific beekeepers and sharing information and knowledge on beekeeping so that we can make a name for the Pacific honey globally,’ said Mr Inae.
‘I am keen to join the biosecurity discussions, which is a growing threat to the bee industry, such as the varroa mites and tropilaelaps. Both are external parasites that are attacking the bee industry. This project is teaching us how to improve our biosecurity in the region.,’
In Fiji, the Fiji Beekeepers Association President and commercial beekeeper, Mr Nilesh Kumar, who is attending and leading a team of beekeeping instructors to deliver on several practical workshops, shared similar sentiments.
‘Beekeeping in Fiji would not be able to flourish without the support that we are receiving, the sharing of technical and scientific research from our partners, and the constant upskilling from the ACIAR-supported training, and now for the first time, we can get our regional beekeepers together to share knowledge and best practices,’ said Mr Kumar.
‘This regional congress will allow beekeepers to get together, like bees in a hive and work together to share essential skills, and knowledge, discuss biosecurity threats and, most importantly allow us to plan steps for the future of Pacific bee and honey industry.’
‘I look forward to attending the congress and networking with other Pacific beekeepers to discuss the potential of Pacific honey and honey-based products in the future. I personally feel Pacific honey is high quality and is liquid gold with a lot of untapped potential.’
Dr Schouten added that Pacific honey had its own unique properties, colours, aroma and flavours alike.
‘Honey across the Pacific tastes very different from anywhere else. The diversity of tropical floral resources gives many honey profiles unique tropical fruit profiles and there are some great potentials to develop high-value, niche-marketed honey products. This is something beekeeping industries in the Pacific along with local researchers, organisations and beekeepers could work on to develop the global positioning of Pacific honey,’ said Dr Schouten.
ACIAR Research Program Manager for Livestock Systems, Dr Anna Okello, said beekeeping has excellent potential to improve rural livelihoods and that improved biosecurity could have a significant role in the performance of regional bee industries more broadly, including in Australia.
‘ACIAR in partnership with SCU is proud to support the first Pacific Islands Beekeeping Congress. This congress is a great outcome of what happens when research is applied to sustainable development practices collectively with farmers, industry players and other stakeholders,’ added Dr Okello.
Biosecurity is central to the latest ACIAR-supported beekeeping project in Fiji and Papua New Guinea, which builds on more than 30 years of research partnerships to support livelihoods in the Pacific region and protect Australia’s honey bee industry.
Beekeepers in the Pacific are set to benefit from a new ACIAR-funded project aiming to improve the productivity and profitability of smallholder beekeeping.
The four-year project run by Southern Cross University’s Bees for Sustainable Livelihoods research group will work with local beekeepers in Fiji and Papua New Guinea (PNG) to enhance beekeeping technical skills, reduce honey bee biosecurity risks and improve opportunities for women’s groups to generate income from beekeeping enterprises.