THE SPEEDY BEE, July 1992, “The Caribbean Apicultural Development Association (CADA) forms in St. Lucia”
The aircraft took a steep left bank turn as the landing gear ratcheted down, and with flaps full, we settled into the ground effect before touchdown at Vigie Beach Airport on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia. The Eagle had landed. Not the NASA version that chroniclers of history are so fond of, but American Airlines Eagle that now flies to most of the West Indies. We were tired; it had been a long trip from San Juan down the Antillean chain. Exiting the aircraft, however, a moist, caressing breeze refreshed our spirits. Across the street, the sea grape buzzed with activity, and a nectar flow was on, a prelude to planned activities for the next few days.
I had come to St. Lucia, known primarily for the sulfur springs flowing from the still active volcano, Soufriere, to attend the First Regional Training Workshop for Beekeepers from the Caribbean region. Fifty-six beekeepers and officials involved in apiculture from 19 nations met to exchange technical information and discuss apicultural development problems in the region. The event was coordinated by the Interamerican Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) in this, its 50th year of development efforts in the Latin American region.
I was part of the delegation from Florida sponsored by the Florida Association of Voluntary Agencies for Caribbean Action (FAVACA) and the University of Florida. My partner was Laurence Cutts, fourth generation beekeeper, and present Chief Apiary Inspector for the state of Florida. Billed as “Florida’s Mini Peace Corps,” FAVACA has an active program which provides short-term technical assistance to many nations in the Caribbean region. It prides itself on activities that are self-help, small-scale, cost-efficient, timely, high-impact and accountable. Programs run the gamut from sickle cell anemia awareness and drug rehabilitation to aquaculture and historic revitalization. Beekeeping fits well into FAVACA’s overall philosophy and the organization has sent several Florida beekeepers to consult on Antigua/Barbuda, St. Kitts, and Nevis.
A few years back, when I visited Antigua/Barbuda to consult with beekeepers, I made a recommendation that a regional meeting of those involved in beekeeping development efforts should be held to exchange information. This conference was finally taking place. The St. Lucia meeting provided me with the opportunity to meet colleagues I had not seen since my visit to Antigua/Barbuda. Abudu Jaima was there with a group in the production stages of a video on the relationship of beekeeping and agroforestry. And Bernard Nichols a highwire artist, and broadcast station maintenance man turned beekeeper, presented me with one of the brightly colored t-shirts he
designed as a promotional effort to dell his premium Antiguan honey. I saw Quentin Henderson, in the final stages of a five-year tint as a beekeeping volunteer on he island of Nevis, part of the UK’s Volunteer Service Overseas (VSO) program. I also met other movers and shakers in Caribbean beekeeping. These included Hugh Sauer, finishing up his beekeeping tour as a Peace Corps volunteer on St. Lucia, Dr. Daniel Pesante, extension beekeeping specialist at the University of Puerto Rico who also consults with Central American agriculturalists on pollination problems, and Mohamed Hallim, beekeeping extension officer in Trinidad/Tobago who will be hosting the Fifth International Conference on Apiculture in Tropical Climates in September. For the next three days, all of us would hold intensive sessions on the state of beekeeping in the Caribbean. True to what I knew about the region, there is considerable variation from island to island. Antigua, for example, is a low, dry island now experiencing extreme drought, whereas St. Lucia and others have high peaks with true rainforest conditions. Language can also be a barrier. English, Spanish, French and the creole patois were all apparent at the S t. Lucia Conference; the Dutch language is also present in the region but was not represented at the workshop. Most countries represented were in the Eastern Caribbean; there were no delegates from the big island of Hispaniola (Haiti and Dominican Republic), Jamaica, Cuba, nor any mainland countries in Central or South America. In spite of the many perceived differences between nations present, there was agreement by those in attendance that a strong regional beekeeping development effort could significantly help nations upgrade their individual apicultural programs. As a result, the Caribbean Apicultural Development Association (CADA) was formed at the conclusion of the meeting in St. Lucia and a five-member steering committee was appointed. It will be the committee’s job to draft a constitution to determine how elections might work and membership will be solicited.
A major part of the St. Lucia meeting was the presentation of papers on beekeeping in the region. It is impossible to summarize each country paper presented, but I will comment on some statements that were heard during the workshop and the responses they generated. Beekeeping is a sustainable agricultural activity that produces income, stimulates employment and is environmentally friendly. The concepts were the main themes of the workshop. They were repeated by all speakers, including the keynote addresses of Mr. Reginald Pierre, Director of IICA operations in the Caribbean, and the Honorable Ira d’Auvergne, St. Lucia Minister of Agriculture, Lands, Fisheries and Forestry.
Beekeeping can help countries diversify their agriculture, many of which rely heavily on monocultures of sugar or bananas. Honey, beeswax and other bee products can be marketed as “value added.” Niches of profitability are possible for many such as those attained by “Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee. Beyond the well-known products like honey and beeswax, markets for pollen, royal jelly and propolis could also be developed. A major product the region could market is the bee itself, taking advantage of the unusual genetic resource of tropically adapted bees which are relatively free of major diseases, pests and undesirable genes such as those found in the African honey bee. Nowhere in the region is there a queen rearing operation of any size except Vieques island near Puerto Rico. It was strongly suggested that beekeepers importing stock should only buy from places like Vieques which are free from diseases/pests and African bees.
Few women are found in beekeeping even though female insects run the honey bee colony. Employment opportunities in beekeeping and value added products of apiculture were seen to be possible for all sexes and ages. Not only were there opportunities in culturing the bees themselves, but in allied industries. Antigua suffers from extreme drought, few cooperatives, and no standardization of either price or regulations. Except for drought, many of those attending said that their situation mirrored that of Antigua. In spite of the problems, however, honey prices are generally much higher in the region when compared to world market prices. Most agreed that local marketing efforts should take precedence over exporting to Japan, the United States or Europe. Also there was agreement that quarantine efforts needed to be tightened (legislation passed and adequate enforcement) on bees and bee products entering the region.
Hurricane Hugo destroyed most of the honey bees on Montserrat. Now a honey surplus exists, however, which must be exported. Many of the Caribbean countries were hit hard by Hugo and are building their colonies slowly back to previous levels. Perhaps as a cause of reduced numbers, honey prices appear to have held, but there continues to be a large movement throughout the region in response to local price differences. Imported queens are often considered superior when in fact its nothing more than their age that is responsible for increased production. Young queens are far more able to produce the necessary worker population than older individuals This is often not accounted for by beekeepers who import queens am enthusiastically report superior results. It cannot be over emphasized that because imported queens are younger than the queens they replace, it is often their age, not their genetic makeup, that is responsible for increasing honey yield. A hundred and fifty pound surplus is the average for colonies on Grenada. After this statement was made, it was revealed that the “colonies” being discussed were special. They were made up of three brood chambers, each with its own queen, which were combined just before the flow. In general, feeding honey to bees is not good beekeeping practice.
A great deal of discussion attended this last comment. Beekeepers revealed that not only were they feeding honey from unknown sources, but they were also leaving recently extracted combs out in the open for the bees to clean. It was generally agreed that although feeding honey this way in a relatively clean environment did not pose much of a present threat, it was a practice that would disastrously exacerbate any incipient disease/pest introduction.
If there was any unifying force at the St. Lucia meeting, it was the fact that countries in the region wanted to prevent introduction of the African honey bee. The only nation that presently has Apis mellifera scutellata is Trinidad. The consensus of the rest was that the bee was not wanted in spite of isolated reports that it might be a superior producer. Only very few disagreed with the statement that potential benefits provided by the African honey bee could not possibly compare with all the disadvantages inherent in its introduction.
The principle method of African bee introduction into Trinidad was and continues to be natural migration because of the short distance (15 km) between the island and the South American continent. To this date, Tobago has not been invaded. A paper by Mohamed Hallim listed the major effects of Africanization of the honey bee population in Trinidad. There has been a decline of 34% in the number of honey bee colonies managed on Trinidad since 1978, but the number of beekeepers has increased by six percent. All managed colonies on the island have become Africanized either by direct colonization of existing hives and/or replacement by either swarms or supersedure by queens mated with African drones. In spite of the decrease in numbers of colonies on Trinidad, honey production has only been reduced by two percent. In conjunction with this, the average yield per colony has increased from 12 liters in 1978 to 18 liters in 1991. This information must be tempered by the fact that on Tobago the average yield pet colony is over 22 liters. This it probably due to several factors, including more bee forage on Tobago than Trinidad, less competition from thousands of feral swarms of African bees, and the fact that it it far more difficult to adequately manage African bees than their European cousins.
Few public safety problems were reported in Trinidad prior to 1979 Since then stinging incidents have increased significantly. From 197! to 1991, over 26,000 swarms have been destroyed or collected on request by the ministry of agriculture. In the same period, over 5,000 persons were stung resulting in 10 deaths. In addition, some 760 animals (poultry, dogs, monkeys, goats, cows, donkeys) were stung to death. The result of this has been massive loss of colony locations for most beekeepers in Trinidad.
The result of the Africanization of the honey bee population on Trinidad is that beekeepers must continually adapt and begin a selection process from their most productive, least defensive colonies. Management practices now taught by the extension service include: locating apiaries more than 200 meters from residences, 100 meters from roads and 3 meters from each other; providing shade and individual hive stands; feeding in the wet season to prevent absconding; requeening regularly; smoking colonies properly; and wearing full suits of protective clothing.
Mr. Hallim closed with the statement that the possibility of introduction of the African bee into Caribbean islands is real and should be prevented. And if the bee becomes introduced, there will be no recourse except to adapt to the insect much as Trinidad has done. Beyond this possible introduction, there also exists the possibility of Varroa being carried by African bees to the islands.
Participants from the meeting in St. Lucia took a half day off to visit one of the island’s apicultural accomplishments. Roots Farm, a cooperative which grows most of its own food, inaugurated its honey house to the applause of those in attendance. Built in partnership with the Peace Corps, Barclay’s Bank and RCA, the 20 by 16 feet concrete block structure houses an extracting and bottling facility and workshop.
A Peace Corps volunteer, Hugh Sauer, has been instrumental in helping the Cooperative design and build the honey house, as well as manage its colonies. In response to the new facility, the Cooperative is now doubling the number of hives it manages from 50 to 100. This smallscale success story is a hopeful sign that beekeeping development is worth pursuing. It could be repeated many times throughout the Caribbean region.
Going from St. Lucia to Martinique takes 15 minutes, yet these islands are very far apart in many ways. Official figures provide one clue: the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of St. Lucia is U.S. $94 million (U.S. $1.200 per person) whereas for Martinique the GDP is a hefty U.S. $1.5 billion (U.S. $4,406 per person). The country has arguably one of the highest standards of living in the Caribbean. It has everything one could want from a network of well-maintained roads full of rental cars and to a shopping mall in the outskirts of Fort de France, the Capital, that rivals any in the United States.
Of course, there is the language difference; English is spoken in St. Lucia and French in Martinique. Because it is a French Department, much like a state is in U.S. terms, Martinique is oriented toward Europe. This certainly goes for beekeeping. Materials are imported almost exclusively from Thomas, a large French beekeeping equipment manufacturer. Another reflection of European orientation is the fact that beekeeping in Martinique falls under the purview of the veterinary) service. This is not so in the U.S., where the state departments of agriculture are responsible for bee inspection.
I was hosted on Martinique by Christian Palin, veteran of seven years veterinary education in France. Although I didn’t see every beekeeper on the island, the ones I visited were enthusiastic, well equipped and appeared to be managing thei colonies well. Hives I visited in Moutte, an agriculturally oriented school, had some of the prettiest frames of honey I’ve ever seen.
It was in Budapest, Hungary, at Apimondia’s World Apiculture Congress in 1983, that I first met Philippe Bally from Martinique. He presented me with his honey label. This tricolored bit of paper, almost 10 years old, linked us up again through the efforts of Mr. Palin. I discovered in the process that Mr. Bally also had been receiving my monthly beekeeping newsletter on a regular basis all this time.
Mr. Bally is one of the best organized beekeepers I have met. He has a checkered history, learning about honey bees from a churchman in school, starting with four colonies in 1974 and bringing hive numbers up to 580 by the early 1980s. From 1985 on, Mr. Bally reduced the number of his hives because of labor problems and activities in other businesses. He still has 380 colonies of bees, however, and is in the process of importing trained beekeeping labor from France.
Mr. Bally’s honey house, a large brick building in Petit Bourg near Riviere Salee, contains the usual equipment one expects to find in such an establishment. Again, it is imported from France and has the Thomas name. Two large, fully automated extractors dominate the honey processing room and Thomas designed especially for Mr. Bally a mechanical system that transports the frames from the uncapper to the extractors. He processes his cappings into foundation using a system he saw in Mexico (Apimondia 1981) for dipping wax sheets; these are then embossed usng a rubber template squeezed beween a set of rollers.
Like most Europeans I have met, Mr. Bally is extremely quality conscious. He not only sells his honey a good prices locally, but ilso has a special label, very diffi:ult to obtain, for selling his prodlet in France. In the corner of his honey house is a major factor in Mr. Bally’s ‘management system, an IBM P’S/30 computer. He was perhaps one of the first beekeepers to cornputerize, beginning with an Apple I in 1980 and progressing to this present machine, in the process adapting his early Fortran program to newer software, Framework II. It is astounding to realize that Mr. Bally is managing his bees on a comb by comb basis. Although a tremendous amount of work, he believes this is the only way to get a good picture of a colony’s productivity.
The key figure in Mr. Bally’s management program is the average honey extracted per frame for the whole operation. His detailed computer printouts show everything possible about each hive. The program takes the data and calculates total cumulative honey production and the average yield per hive. He keeps about 30 colonies per location and does not move the bees. In order to obtain the required information, he must break down every super in the field (he uses a bee blower), and collect only frames that are filled. This intensive manipulation on strong colonies many times causes the bees to be very defensive, a trait he religiously records along with queen quality.
Mr. Bally’s characterization of his bees as “super aggressive” one day and gentle the next for no particular reason reminded me of the reported unpredictability of the African honey bee. In spite of various introductions of European bees in Martinique, he says the insects invariably return to their “aggressive” state and, usually, these colonies are the most productive. This parallels the situation of African bees, where the wild population over time comes to dominate any introduced stock. Mr. Bally did raise many quality queens from introduced European stock in previous years (he learned the Doolittle technique in Florida from the Curtis family, but finally gave up because he could find no way to control the drones that were mating with his queens. One reason the wild stock is so dominating, he says, is that it is basically Apis mellifera mellifera, introduced in the 1700s. Over several hundred years, the bees have become adapted to local conditions; introduced Italians (Apis mellifera ligustica) as late as the 1940’s simply have been unable compete.
In spite of reducing the size of his operation, Mr. Bally continues to be intensely interested in honey bees. He asked me, for example, what was the single most important change I had seen in beekeeping that would help him in Martinique. I was at a loss; the events over the past decade in the United States that have so changed apiculture have had little impact on Martinique. These include introduction of exotic mites and the African bee, and improvements in transportation fostering the development of a commercial pollinating industry.
His contacts with France, have convinced Mr. Bally that the biggest change in beekeeping technology is in feeding bees special diets to develop a colony to its full potential. I have always thought that was an area that needed more investigation; it was the basis for a feeding study I conducted a couple of years back in Florida’s panhandle. Unfortunately, I could not find out what the French might be feeding their bees. Mr. Bally is planning to use the special diet this coming season in Martinique. I hope to keep in contact with him find out the results of this feeding program.
Leaving Martinique’s Le Lemantin plain with its odor of sugar and rum processing on the American Eagle, I reflected on my stay in the Antilles. Life on the tops of these huge mountains sticking out of a blue green, tranquil sea seems changeless from the air. This is patently not so, however, when one views these islands from terrafirma. Will these present beekeeping paradises be able to avoid the apicultural problems now found on most continents of the world? The prognosis is not good. Cannibalism, slavery, and war, usually introduced from elsewhere, have taken a great toll in the area. Thus, history suggests a Herculean effort will be required if the fledgling beekeeping industries of the Caribbean are to retain their present character.
Post Script: The Caribbean Association Of Apicultural Development (CADA) is now known as The Association of Caribbean Beekeepers’ Associations (ACBO). It recently celebrated the 8th annual congress, September 2015. Bally’s Honey continues to be a going concern.