Agriculture is big business for 49-year-old Roan Saunders of Beeston Spring in Westmoreland.
He started out in the industry eight years ago with one colony of feral (wild) bees, which had taken up residence near his woodwork shop. Since then, the number of colonies has grown to more than 200.
Being a woodworker, Mr. Saunders also grasped the opportunity to make and sell bee boxes, filling a void in the parish, as there were a growing number of bee farmers in Westmoreland who were travelling to Manchester to obtain supplies.
His enterprise, dubbed Nabs Bee Farm Honey, is a thriving family business, which sells mainly beekeeping-related items and, of course, honey.
His son, 23-year-old Shamere Saunders, who works in the business full-time, says beekeeping can also provide “a good side income” once proper time management is practised.
“This is what I do full-time – make boxes, frames, cover, bottom board. If you know how to structure your time well, you can do it and anything else that you desire, because… you don’t need to be in the apiary on a daily basis,” he points out.
Mr. Saunders credits the success of his enterprise to the advice and expertise of the Agriculture Unit in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries.
He tells JIS News that initially, he had the colonies at the back of the house “but I went to training in Eltham with the Agriculture Unit and they told us red ants eat bees and I would go there and see red ants, so I moved them”.
“When (Attoy Williams) came to Westmoreland as the Agriculture Extension Officer, I had 11 colonies, and he said if he were living here, he would breed and sell bees, and from that day I started breeding and selling bees. I got a lot from the Agriculture Unit. I used that advice and I can’t regret it,” he says.
The beekeeping industry in western Jamaica continues to grow in leaps and bounds, generating income for thousands of persons in honey production, bee breeding, and provision of supplies.
Bee farmers attribute the success largely to the work of the Agriculture Unit over the past two decades.
The extension officers are responsible for monitoring and inspecting all activities across the island. They stage regular training free of cost and work closely with the bee farmer groups within the parishes.
According to agriculture extension officer for St. Elizabeth and Westmoreland, Attoy Williams, a lot of emphasis is placed on promoting value-added products.
Mr. Williams says the agriculture industry has grown tremendously over the past six years, as, increasingly, “people have now realised that beekeeping is one of those things that can generate a very good income in a short period of time”.
“Between St. Elizabeth and Westmoreland we have approximately 700 farmers having between 11,000 and 12,000 colonies of bees. About seven years ago, there were about half of this, but because of the emphasis that has been placed on beekeeping, because of how lucrative the industry is, more and more people are coming – doctors, lawyers people from every strata of society want a piece of the beekeeping industry,” he points out.
“Our duty is to teach you everything, from start to finish; from the moment you become interested in beekeeping until the time you become an established beekeeper,” Mr. Williams adds.
The growth of the industry has been particularly strong in Hanover, which now houses the only functioning honey-bottling plant on the island, which is operated by the Hanover Bee Farmers’ Cooperative.
Manager of the facility, Winfield Murray, tells JIS News that the Agriculture Unit has been a bastion throughout the 31 years of existence of the Hanover-based organisation, strengthening the farmers’ beekeeping skills through, among other things, workshops and in-the-field training.
“The Agriculture Unit has been involved in the whole business of research and guiding the farmers, based on the research of course. The bee extension officers would visit the farmers’ apiaries, give whatever guidance they require and update them on the latest technology and the latest developments in beekeeping,” he explains.
“They have been effective because the training that we got – myself and other older bee farmers – we got it through the Agriculture Unit. They were the ones who organised the training seminars and the workshops… . We benefited tremendously from their activities over the years,” says Mr. Murray, who is also a past president of the All-Island Bee Farmers’ Association.
Another bee farmer, Donald Campbell of Dias in Hanover, tells JIS News that his competence in beekeeping has also been due to the foundation set by the Agriculture Unit.
Mr. Campbell, who also offers agriculture consultancy services, says he benefited significantly from training in areas such as disease control, pest management and hygienic practices.
“I have learnt how to split colonies and divide them, queen rearing, honey harvesting… . The Agriculture Unit has been supportive of farmers right across the island. Whenever we have problems that are beyond us, they are the experts; they are more knowledgeable…,” he explains.
The Ministry values Jamaica’s agriculture industry at $2 billion, and according to JAMPRO, the estimated return on investment is 23 per cent.
Jamaica exports honey to several countries, including the United Kingdom (UK), United States, Bermuda and the US Virgin Islands. The importation of honey into Jamaica is restricted.