I have returned from Spain and the XVI Feria Apícola (Beekeeping Fair) de Castilla La Mancha in Pastrana. This region is one of extreme significance in Spanish history and continues to be an important part of the country’s patrimony. The new currency in Spain features Castilla la Mancha emblazoned on the face of its coins. Several world wide web sites of the region can be accessed using any of the search engines now available. Apiculture is one of the most important agricultural pursuits in the region. Perhaps nothing so symbolizes this as much as the large iron-work sculpture of three worker honey bees on a comb that greets the visitor leaving the N II autoroute and taking the N 204 road that traverses much of the region. Sisters of these bees can also be seen in the centuries-old jewelry collection found in the town’s parochial museum nestled inside the 14th century Colegiata de Pastrana.
“Again, the apicultural exposition; again the sweet convention; again the cordial invitation to Pastrana.” These are the opening lines of the newspaper El Decano de Guadalajara, celebrating the annual beekeeping fair some 60 miles east of Madrid. Ever since 1981, this part of the region, called the Alcarria, and its capital, Guadalajara, has hosted an ever-larger assembly of people from all over the region and Europe to promote the honey bee and beekeeping. This year an estimated 20,000 persons, including yours truly, visited the three-day event (April 10-13 1997). Inside and around La Plaza del Deán, historic seat the dukes of Pastrana and their royal heirs, including the famous one-eyed Princess of Eboli, sixty-five participating companies from seven European countries put on Spain’s largest beekeeping show.
The Pastrana meeting is unique according to Mr. Brian Sherriff, who yearly comes south to hawk his celebrated bee suits made of materials usually reserved for brassieres and swim suits. It is part beekeepers’ meeting, part general public gathering and free to all comers. Those putting up displays are hosted with a reception that has all the trimmings. Events include a beekeeping museum, featuring cork bark cross sticked (combed) hives, displays of beekeeping equipment and honey bee products for sale. At night, concerts by the local choir in residence include both religious and secular songs. Parking is also free; two trains take visitors from the parking lot over a kilometer away to La Plaza del Deán. Displays of interest this year included that of E.D.A.P.I. (European Documentation in Apiculture for Press and Information) an organization that cooperates in the publication of many European bee journals (Abeilles & Cie [Belgium], Imkerei-Technik Magazin [Germany] and Bulletin Technique Apicole[France]). The Spanish bee journals (Vida Apicola, El Colmenar) and one from Portugal (O Apicultor) were in evidence. The Ministry of Agriculture was hooked live to the world wide web and one outfit called El Mundo de las Abejas featured videos and a CD ROM that won prizes at the last Apimondia Congress in Lauzanne, Switzerland. The importance of this fair was emphasized by the presence of large beekeeping manufacturers from both France (Thomas) and Italy (Lega).
This year the event was also marked by the sixth ”honey route,” a 120-kilometer bicycle race touching many of the historic towns in the region. And then, there was the event not-so-well trumpeted by the three newspaper supplements printed for the fair, the march to close “Zorita.” The region, it seems, is also center of controversy in Spain. Not ten kilometers down the road from Pastrana, a large, red dome along the dammed up river Tajo marks the Zorita nuclear center and the striking twin towers of another large atomic energy facility also loom near the historic castle at Cifuentes just to the north. What better activity than the beekeeping fair which promotes an environmentally-friendly activity, the organizers stated on their posters, to contrast with what many call the “obtrusive, technologically-dangerous nature of nuclear power.” An incident in 2003 has led to decommissioning of the Zorita site in 2010, scheduled for completion in 2015.
Besides the displays, the Pastrana meeting also featured a series of discussions on controlling Varroa, beekeeping management, conserving quality in bee products and providing of aid by the European union to Spanish beekeepers. The last is extremely important. The Alcarria is becoming a region to reckon with as part of the “new” Europe. Evidence of this is the invitation by Guadalajara to host the 2003 meeting of Apimondia and the fact that this is the only region in Spain to have a coveted “certificate of origin” label for its honey.
The Province of Guadalajara sports 700 registered beekeepers with 27,000 hives of bees. according to the April 4 edition of Nueva Alcarria, another supplement printed especially for this event. The number registered, however, is only 45 percent of beekeepers in the region and about 18 percent of colonies actually present. Three great apicultural regions exist in the Province: La Alcarria; the mountain zone and the northeast. Each has a different vegetation mix, although the most prevalent plant is rosemary. There is little doubt, the article concludes, that the certificate of origin label has contributed greatly to the exportation of the region’s honey to other parts of Europe and the Middle East.
Although the certificate of origin has been in effect since 1992, there is much work to be done according to an article in the newspaper supplement of Guadalajara 2000. The 106 beekeepers and 25 honey packers that control the commercial activity involved with “Miel de la Alcarria” at present have experienced prolonged drought in the ‘93, ‘95 and ‘95 seasons, reducing the amount of certified honey on the market. An average of 20 kg of honey per colony for the 13,000 signed up for the certificate, has been the rule instead of the usual 30 to 50 kg. In addition, only 10 percent of those eligible have signed up for the certificate of origin. A regulatory counsel is in the process of being created, the article concludes, that will be capable of controlling and regulating the honey quality and be accredited by the European Union. The target implementation date is January 1, 1998.
The same supplement contains comments by Mr. Lucio Cavazzoni, President of the Committee of Professional Agricultural Associations (COPA-COGECA). For the first time, he says, the Rome treaty and European Union have recognized the existence of the apicultural sector and also committed 15 million Ecus (the proposed new European currency) to help improve production and commercialization of honey. However, this appropriation must still pass some hurdles in Brussels, and it is not yet known how this money will be distributed nor what it will be used for, Mr. Cavazzoni says. So far, the community directives and financial support coming from the European Union are not substantial enough to defend Spanish honey quality, Mr. Cavazzoni says. The debate surrounding honey has not been adequate, as those who would industrialize the sweet promote simple rules for a complex product. The European Union is obligated to provide the help needed so that the consumer will be able to differentiate between the imported, industrialized product and the distinctive, superior product provided by the certificate of origin in Spain, says Mr. Cavazzoni. In addition, he concludes, although the fight against Varroa by the European Union has taken gigantic strides toward control and eradication, more needs to be done.
All these topics were on the agenda at the Pastrana meeting. An afternoon was taken up with discussions on the regulations being proposed by the European Union and possible help to Spanish beekeepers and the present status of beekeeping in general throughout the Union. A delegation of members from the European Union, along with the President of Apimondia participated in these talks at Pastrana. The outcome of all this will no doubt be unveiled as the fledgling European Union phases in over the next few years. No matter what happens, however, there is sure to be another Feria Apicola next year at the same time in Pastrana.