Beekeepers conference expected to create a buzz

OVER 4,000 visitors from 100 countries will give the national economy an estimated €8 million boost as they buzz around the country this week.

They are the delegates to Apimondia, a prestigious biennial world gathering of beekeepers, related professionals, scientists and enthusiasts, which is being held for the first time in Ireland.

Fáilte Ireland’s marketing director Paul Keeley said Apimondia is the largest of 32 major international conferences taking place in Ireland this year.

“As delegates tend to spend as much as 70% more than the average visitor, they are especially important for the tourism industry,” he said.

The conference will run for a week and many delegates will visit the regions with guided tours to Mayo, Offaly, Tipperary and Wexford.

“We support organisations in pitching to host international conferences here through our conference ambassador programme. It takes years of planning for an event of the scale of Apimondia but the pay-off is enormous,” Mr Keeley said.

The congress is being hosted by the Federation of Irish Beekeepers’ Associations (FIBKA) and organised in conjunction with the Ulster Beekeepers Association, with support from the British, Scottish and Welsh Beekeepers Associations.

There about 3,000 beekeepers in the Republic and another 700 in the North.

Nearly all of them are hobbyists. Few are full-time but up to 30% could be regarded as part-time.

Last year, honey production here had a farm gate value of €1.9m, but €5m worth is believed to be imported annually to meet consumer demand for the product.

Honey has been regarded for over 5,000 years as both a food and a medicine with no fewer than 180 different nutritional substances. Its soothing properties can be used to help ease sore throats and clear coughs.

Apimondia was officially opened last evening at the RDS in Dublin by Food Minister Brendan Smith. He said he was pleased his Department has been able to contribute to the congress by sponsoring the publication of the scientific proceedings.

The programme will continue until Friday with a wide range of activities including the first ever World Honey Show, demonstrations and exhibitions.

While catering for the avid beekeepers, the event is also open to the public and will include an international village showcasing bee and honey-related products for sale along with a craft demonstration area and farmers market.

Visitors can watch beekeepers removing frames from live hives and extracting honey and see the skill of moulding candles from beeswax. They can find out the different ways honey can be used in cooking and for making nutritious drinks, and learn how both honey and beeswax can be used in the production of modern cosmetics.

Beekeeping in Ireland enjoys a long history. Honey was found near the megalithic tombs at Newgrange, which predate both Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids.

Bees were then the principal source of wax for candles, and honey was the sole sweetener, but Ireland, like the rest of the world, has seen both the science and economics of beekeeping undergo enormous change.

Apimondia Ireland president Philip McCabe said beekeepers are now faced with challenges related to bee diseases and undesirable genetic traits that were unknown in the past.

“It is my hope that Apimondia 05 will present an opportunity for an open, friendly and productive exchange of information on all aspects of beekeeping and the marketing of bee related products,” he said.

Mr McCabe secured widespread publicity for the congress in June when he attracted 200,000 bees on to his body to form a giant swarming beard in Cahir, Co Tipperary in an unsuccessful attempt for a new Guinness Book of Records entry.

FIBKA, which he heads, has 46 affiliated groups with nearly 2,500 members. It encourages the production of high quality Irish honey and its marketing as a premium product.

Meanwhile, the state agricultural research and development authority, Teagasc, believes that beekeeping in Ireland can be a valuable source of supplementary income in conjunction with other farm enterprises.

“The outlook for beekeeping is good, especially with the Rural Environment Protection Scheme (REPS) in operation and a more positive attitude to preserving and retaining natural flora that the honeybee exploits to gather the honey crop,” it says.

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