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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » April 26, 2012
Polska… tastes good!
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Honey: Tasty and Healthy
April 26, 2012   
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Poland is a leading producer of honey in the European Union. In terms of eating honey, though, the Poles are behind many European nations.

“Honey is the most obvious symbol of healthy food, because bees live only where the environment is clean and healthy and where agriculture uses methods that are safe to consumers,” said Marek Sawicki, minister of agriculture and rural development, at a recent conference on beekeeping and the honey market in Poland.

There are 50,000 registered beekeepers in Poland today and more than 1.2 million bee colonies. Beekeeping is developing steadily, with honey production growing accordingly, reaching 23,000 metric tons in 2011. “The beekeeping business has huge potential because as much as 65 percent of its output is sold directly to consumers at the apiary,” Sawicki said. “Beekeepers earn the least when they use middlemen. That’s why I think they will find a place for themselves in the system of marketplaces being set up under the Agriculture Ministry’s Mój Rynek (My Marketplace) program.”

Poland is a European leader in honey production. In terms of eating honey it is quite a long way down on the list of EU countries, with annual honey consumption of just 0.62 kg per person. In Greece, the figure is 3.5 kg, 2.5 kg in Austria, and about 2 kg per person per year in Germany.

“It’s obvious that we still don’t eat enough of the healthy product that honey is. I’d love to see us eating at least as much as our neighbors across the Oder river,” Sawicki said.

EU estimates show that bees and their hard work generate about 15 billion euros for the EU economy as a whole. “There are 14 million bee colonies in the EU, so each of these colonies and their pollination gives national economies more than 1,070 euros,” said Tadeusz Sabat, president of the Polish Beekeepers’ Association. “That’s why the European Parliament has declared it will increase funding for beekeeping. This would significantly aid the development of beekeeping.”

The Agriculture Ministry is drawing up national beekeeping programs to improve the conditions for making and trading in honeybee products in Poland. This aim will be reached through technical assistance to individual beekeepers and beekeeper groups, accompanied by measures to combat a bee disease called varrosis, efforts to streamline the seasonal moving of beehives, funds to support laboratories analyzing the physical and chemical properties of honey, funding to support the stocking of hives in the European Union, and work with specialist organizations in carrying out research projects involving beekeeping and honeybee products.

One of the ministry’s beekeeping programs, which ran from the 2007/2008 season to the 2009/2010 season, covered beekeepers with a total of over 1 million bee colonies between them—of the 1.1 million registered by county vets nationwide. Now a new program, covering the 2010/2011-2012/2013 period, is under way with a budget of more than 15.1 million euros.

Support is also provided under special agricultural/environmental programs and direct subsidies for melliferous crops.

“The directions and opportunities are many and we can see that beekeepers are getting better at taking advantage of them,” Sawicki said. “The use of funding has grown from 54 percent in the program’s first year to about 91 percent over the past three years.”

In March, Sawicki met with beekeepers taking part in a “march in defense of bees.” Sawicki told them there was no reason for concern over the well-being of Poland’s bee population because the number of bee colonies is growing. There were about 950,000 in 2003 and 1,246,633 in 2011. Reports that appeared in the media early this year to the effect that bee colonies were allegedly dying in great numbers have never been confirmed, Sawicki said.

Sawicki also appealed to beekeepers to join forces. First of all, this would help the discussion on the Common Agricultural Policy after 2013, and secondly it would bring measurable benefits to the beekeepers themselves. People forming producer groups can expect extra benefits, for example supplementary funding for their operations.

“I regret to say there is not a single producer group among beekeepers,” Sawicki said. “Meanwhile, this kind of consolidation brings added benefits in the form of subsidies related to the value of products sold jointly. That’s why I encourage people to gather together in producer groups and work on better coordination within organizations for the purpose of even more effective utilization of available opportunities and funding to support their operations.”
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