Honey farms are being hit hard with a variety of problems ranging from environmental issues as well as a lack of resources.
In the far inland area behind Fusi and Vaiaata, Savai’i, Rex Jeffrey of C.C.K. Integrated Farming Systems says their honey farm has not recovered since Tropical Cyclone Gita hit the island in February.
However, prior to that, they were having difficulties with a particularly wet year in 2017 that has continued since.
During a site visit from the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Lopao’o Natanielu Mua and his team of Managers from the various departments in his Ministry, Mr. Jeffrey voiced the challenges that their farm experiences to the Minister.
“Cyclone Gita wiped us out,” he said. “Then we just kept getting rain and more rain. We’ve only had two days without rain. If you haven’t got any flowers you haven’t got any food. They have to have pollen trees like the Acacia and you got to have nectar because nectar makes the honey but there’s none. And this is the trouble all over Samoa.
“It’s been a particularly bad wet year. You only hope that this year or next year is going to dry out and until the trees start to get all the leaves back on they won’t flower much. Until they flower then you will not get any food.”
Mr. Jeffery says the best they can do at this time is to ensure that bees are healthy.
“We’re trying to keep the bees alive for a start with sugar. On top of the hives there’s a hole with a tray on it and we put sugar in that and give them food. It doesn’t give us honey but it keeps them alive.
“So all these trees have a lot pollen that’s all food for them but it’s not honey. So unless we can start to get some nectar flower we won’t get anything.
So we keep them alive with sugar when we can get some nectar flowers coming then they will start to get nectar. But at this moment there is nothing, all over Samoa.”
Typically the C.C.K. honey farm would produce six-seven tonnes of honey annually but at this time they are struggling just to keep the bees alive.
On top of that, the honey industry is facing a threat of a different kind with the beginnings of diseases coming into Samoa through honey smuggling brought on by the shortage of honey in the country.
“With most countries overseas, they have massive diseases. In Samoa, because we are isolated and we have kept ourselves isolated, we haven’t got those diseases but we are starting to get some. What’s happening is, with the shortage of honey, we know people are smuggling American honey in from Pago getting past the quarantines and customs. They don’t check properly.
“They check the planes, but they don’t check the ferry and people put it in their bags and it’s bringing in the diseases. If it continues like that it’s going to wipe out our industry.”
C.C.K. Integrated Farms have a large beehive operation with 100 boxes, but meanwhile nearby in the back rural area of Pu’aPu’a, the owner of a much smaller honey enterprise, Bee Mai Honey Farm, Aiiloilo Tai, says she faces a different set of problems. In a phone call, Ms. Tai said she is having the opposite problems to Mr. Jeffrey.
“I have heaps of bees,” Ms. Tai said. “I have nice hives and they are absolutely full of bees. The problem is I don’t have enough boxes.”
According to Ms. Tai, she had a successful year last year harvesting three times but her farm was also damaged by Tropical Cyclone Gita earlier in the year. However, after recovering from the damage of the cyclone, the bees began to multiply, which she says is due to an abundance of flowers, coconut and cocoa and also a special type of grass that grows on her farm.
She is currently unable to acquire any boxes to meet the growing number of bees on her farm. She contacted Women In Business Development Inc. (W.I.B.D.I.) for help, but was told that she must be registered for five years.
“I’m in a mess,” she said. “I need help with boxes and frames inside, the bees keep growing and the boxes are full inside and outside. I can smell the honey when I’m outside. They sold me rotten boxes from C.C.K. and they are expensive, its $400 for a box of hives. I wish someone would visit me to see what is going on at my farm. I’m just going to keep my fingers crossed.
“I went to W.I.B.D.I. and they told me I have to be registered with them for five years before they can help me. Honestly I think that to get anything done, it’s all about who you know. I am registered as a certified honey producer from Nafanua and so far I have been registered with W.I.B.D.I. for two-three years but I need help now.”
Facing a shortage of quality boxes for bee keeping is hurting Ms. Tai’s bee operation as well as the added taxes with packaging.
“I’ve been calling Lester to help me but he’s got too many people waiting. The tax too hurts me too because when I bottle my honey, they charge me extra for the bottles. Please I really want to do more but I have no boxes and I’ve been asking for so long. C.C.K. was going to sell me some boxes but I’m still waiting until now.
“I need help, if anyone out there can help me from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries that would be really appreciated.
“I’m not having any trouble with growing bees. The bees here are beautiful; I’m so blessed because there are lots and lots of them.”