Pcelarski Kombinat – Belgrade: Yugoslavian Firm Markets Wide Range of Bee Products
Malcolm T. Sanford
The Speedy Bee
It was dusk. We were finishing an exhausting day motoring through the Balkan foothills. Ahead silhouetted against the sky was the monument to the unknown soldier at Avala. We parked and quickly climbed along a wide pathway to the mountain top.
Eight granite figures 15 meters high guarded the crypt. Below twinkled the lights leading to Belgrade, the “white” city of the Danubian plain. For centuries a traditional invasion route, This spectacular monument was erected to commemorate the Yugoslavian peoples’ struggle to resist any conquest over the years by among others Hungarians, Austrians, Turks as well as Germans. David Binder says, “Yugoslavia, as one of the Balkans (including Bulgaria, Romania, Albania and portions of Greece. Hungary, Turkey and the Soviet Union), has only fitfully been free of outside interference, and ethnic and religious animosities, centuries old, that divided its peoples.” The monument also commemorates the so-called “Balkan wars,” that represented the defeat of the Ottoman Empire as it attempted to gain ground in Europe, and also the victims of World War I.
Mr. Binder, in an article, “The Balkans,” in the January 1984 issue of The Wilson Quarterly), adds, “Yugoslavia is presently enjoying an unprecedented second generation of peace, but in the American mind, it’s history is complicated and confusing.” The country may be less mysterious to many now that U.S. citizens have seen Olympic athletes dancing in Saravejo discos. However, it was an enigma to me, as I journeyed via the Apimondia Congress in Budapest. a short trip from the Danube River, to see first hand the ravages of one of the latest invaders from the East, the Asiatic Varroa honey bee mite, In the process, I was visiting a friend and colleague, Dr. Jovan Kulincevic, formerly at the Ohio State University, now in the employ of Pcelarski Kombinat– Beograd, one of the country’s largest processors and marketers of beekeeping-related products.
The Asiatic bee mite is a recent phenomenon in Yugoslavia; it arrived in the mid to late 1970s. The country reports similar experiences to those of the Soviet Union and Turkey. The invasion comes quietly at first, then picks up speed as more colonies are affected. Colonies are put under stress by the mite and thus are unable to butild up population enough to successfully resist the conditions one of fairlysevere winters. At present these is no control for these mites; all Yugoslavian beekeepers can do is look on as more and more colonies become afflicted.
The mite is being closely monitored by Pcelarski Kombinat – Beograd, because what affects Yugoslavian beekeepers also does the same to the company. It sells beekeeping equipment to beekeepers and buys raw bee products from them. Tbc Kornbly’ is rimarily a business modeled on Yugoslavian socialism, which some might have a little trouble calling capitalism. The Kombinat has its roots in two organizations which developed after World War II. Jugomet (a honey production company), and a national center for beekeeing development. In 1963, both merged to become the Kombinat. Capital for the Kombinat came from a mixture of funds provided by government and private loans. Originally it employed 35 persons: now some 135 are on the payroll.
The governing body of the Kombinat is the Workers’ Council, eleven individuals elected by all employees for a two-year term, who oversee the running of the organization. The Council chooses the director and his staff and must ratify all managements decisions such as hiring and firing. The director is elected for four years; all others are reviewed on an annual basis. The Kombinat’s bylaws are extremely flexible; it can be split or merged with other organiations based on worker vote.
The Kombinat has diversifed into other areas (processing and selling and wine), but the majority of its activity is related to beekeeping products. It buys honey, beeswax, propolis royal jelly and pollen to make into some 135 products. Annual sales are 300,000,000 dinars (about US$3,000,000); of that 20 percent is honey bee-related products and 40 percent is beekeeping equipment (smokers. extractors, veils). The Kombinat also helps beekeepers in a number of ways: borrowing money, training in beekeeping, and even incorporating some into the Kombinat itself, making them eligible for bonuses, social security, and pensions.
Sales are processed through seven shops in Belgrade and another five in the provinces. The proceeds go to several. Sources, which include retained earnings for capital expansion and a large variety of taxes (some graduated, some not). What’s left is distributed to the workers in the form of bonuses. A worker’s base pay at the Kombinat is some US$280-300 per month; on top of that each employee gets bonuses or incentives depending on Perforrnance. The state minimum wage is approximately US$130 per month. Some 50 employees are involved in processing products, 30 in retail sales, 10 in distribution ‘and 25 in office and administration.
The Kombinat’s profitability has been down drastically during the last year or so because of stagflation. Interest rates and inflation are both at the 25 percent mark. because of external debt problems, imports have been severely restricted, As a Consequence, the Kombinat has been forced to buy expensive domestic honey (cheaper honey comes from Hungary. Mexico, Australia), which makes it even more dependent on Yugoslavian beekeepers.
Pcelarski Kombinat – Beograd manufactures and markets a wide range of bee products, which can be divided into several groups: (1) natural foods or food additives. (2) medicinal preparations, which are in demand based on a tradition of over-the-counter “folk” medicine, (3) cosmetics, and (4) bee food, such as pollen and mineral suppernents or substit.utes. A sampling of these includes:
Bronhumied—lindent tree honey. extract of marshmallow and propolis, and essential oil of thyme, sold for prevention and therapy of respiratory ailments.
Liomix—freeze-dried royal jelly and pollen, rich in nutrients, to be used in cases when sleeping rhythm is disturbed or one is in a depressed state.
Unidepil—beeswax and additives. used a a depilatory.
Stimulans Apiurosept—medincinal herbs, alcoholic propolis extract, pollen, royal jelly and selected honey. for urinary tract inflammation.
Stimulans Apiferro—rnedicinal herbs, alcoholic propolis extract, used as the name suggests as iron supplement for anemia.
Stimulans Bio-Apvit Gensing—honey, royal jelly, pollen. ginseng root, vitamin E, used in treatment of digestive and respiratory ailments [merits.
Ten 1, 2, 3,—honey. royal jelly, pollen and propolis extract, used as makeup preparations.
Septisol Drops—Pure propolis, calamus, sage and lincura tincture and alcohol, for internal use in treating ulcers.
Forssapin—vitamins A,B,C,D,E, as well as all macro and micro elements needed for normal honey bee development, used by beekeepers as a bee food supplement.
Alhough several of these products may seem untraditional as far as U.S. medical practice is concerned, many have the stamp of approval from Yugoslavian physicians. The Kombinat also works closely in conjunction with private doctors and universities to test products’ effectiveness. In addition. the Kombinat has and continues to hire specialists in an effort to continue to upgrade its products, Recently, the staff has been enriched by a veterinarian, food technologist, chemical product specialist, agronomist, and agricultural engineer.
Dr, Kulincevic, who they call “the Professor,” was hired to do bee research. He is especially active in testing products like Forssapin, mentioned above as a mineral supplement, and in developing a bee breeding program. The latter would be of benefit to both the Kombinat, which would do the developmental genetic work, and the beekeeper, ultimate recipient of a better bee to increase production. Dr. Kulincevic, with the aid of Dr. Walter Rothentruhler at the Ohio State University, is beginning a long-range program to discover and develop lines of honey bees resistant to the Asiatic bee mite. This research is along the line of previous work they collaborated on in developing American foulbrood resistant stock.
As suggested by its sales figures and number of employees, the Kombinat is no small operation. The administrative offices are housed in a modern building near downtown Belgrade. Its employees are dressed in white. looking much like hospital workers. The Korobinat boasts a number of machines that help in the processing. Of species interest is a large-scale machine, for making plastic packaging and a huge propolis extracting apparatus.
Although at present the Kombinat seems on solid ground, there are clouds on the horizon. The recession of the late 1970s hit bard; this can be observed graphically in the large number of unfinished so-called “weekend houses” that dot the landscape. Instead of a “chicken in every pot,” the prevailing ’70s philosophy seemed to be a weekend country house to enjoy on weekends. Many half-built houses are now eyesores on the landscape. Another important problem for the Kombinat, of course, is the Asiatic bee mite itself; So far it remains unchecked and each year its depredations are more severe. portending an uncertain future for beekeeping not only in Yugoslavia, but elsewhere the Balkans.
On a larger scale, Mr. Binder also says. the country, “…is undergoing an economic crisis that also reflects an underlying political crisis. The country’s leadership is trying to maintain Titoism without Tito__ Belgrade’s leaders are worried that pressure from Yugoslavia’s constituent republics may turn Tito’s “different road to socialism” into six or eight different ones.
As I reflect back on my visit to Belgrade and the people at Pcelarski Kombinat—Beograd. it seems that if anything will finally stop the Asiatic bee mite, it may well be the special amalgam ‘ of Yugoslav determination and ingenuity l saw there. The Yugoslays are no stranges to adversity. Their history suggests that dogged determinism by a few can make a big difference. Every beekeeper should he rooting for them to make history repeat itself, and the sooner the better.
Post Script: Since publication of this article, as feared, Yugoslavia did indeed split as a result of a series of political upheavals and conflicts during the early 1990s. Dr. Kulincevic left the Kombinat in 1987, becoming Scientific advisor for the Institute Agroekonomik, Belgrade in 1995, and later director, and finally co-owner and principle advisor of Apicentar in 2002. He still is in involved at the Apicentar in developing honey bees considered to be resistant to the Varroa mite and is the author or several authoritative books on beekeeping.