|Assessment of the
Apiculture Industry in St. Lucia, West Indies
by Dennis van Engelsdorp
to Farmer Consultation Report - March 25 / April 5 2003
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Apiculture in St Lucia has tremendous potential. In fact, fully realized
it could become a leading industry on this Island state. Conservatively an
estimated US$ 6.5 to 17.5 million worth of honey could be produced
annually. Realization of this potential is dependant on several factors.
When asked, St. Lucians consistently identify the primary factor limiting
their industry’s growth - the saturation of domestic honey markets. If
International honey markets could be tapped, however, the present level of
indigenous beekeeping expertise could easily make large strides towards
the industry’s expansion. However, a large and potentially crippling
hurdle to this expansion is the management of the recently introduced
honey bee parasite, the Varroa mite (Varroa destructor). While the current
use of Apistan is an effective mite control practice, the history of mite
management in Europe and America suggest that chemical control is only a
short-term solution, as pesticide resistant mites are widely reported
where mite control relies solely on the use of one pesticide. The St.
Lucian industry would be well advised to explore other Varroa mite control
measures, including cultural controls (such as the use of screened bottom
boards) and less toxic chemical controls (formic acid; essential oils). As
many of these alternative control measures are climate dependant, testing
these measures “on island” would be critical. Over the long term, however,
introduction and/or breeding a stock of bees that is resistant to mites
would be the most sustainable solution. Breeding bees is an involved
process that would require significant investments of time and resources;
however, the potential benefits resulting from an industry working
collaboratively to establish a mite resistant bee stock is not limited to
a reduction of pesticide use. It has the added advantages of prompting
advanced beekeeping techniques and management systems, decreasing
dependence on foreign inputs, encouraging strong and mutually beneficial
North-South linkages, and fostering new beekeepers and industry leaders.
AND PRIMARY OBJECTIVES
This report results from a trip organized through the Farmer-to-Farmer
(FTF) program, which is sponsored by Partners of America. Without the
dedicated staff both at their head office in Washington, the energy and
enthusiasms of local US coordinator Barbara Cannas, and committed
representatives in St Lucia this report would not have been possible.
- To develop/transfer management strategies and/or appropriate technologies
for the control of Varroa destructor (previously Varroa jabsoconi), a
parasitic mite of European honey bees (Apis mellifera)
- Varroa mites evolved on the Asian honey bee (A. cerna) but in the 1950’s
jumped host species and were discovered on A. mellifera managed in SE Asia.
Subsequent trade and movement of bees spread the mite from their original
range. Presently mites are found in all honey-producing countries with the
exception of New Zealand and other island states (i.e. Antigua, WI).
- Typically, when this mite first becomes established large colony losses
are reported as producers struggle to incorporate new management practices
such as the application of the miticide fluvalinate (sold as Apistan
- St. Lucia is no exception. Prior to mite introduction (1998) there
were 3200 colonies managed by 140-150 beekeepers however, after the mites
establishment managed colonies decreased to their present numbers of
approximately 1500 colonies managed by 70 beekeepers.
- To identify barriers to the Apicultural industry’s expansion, and to
suggest strategies to overcome identified obstacles.
- As with most agricultural systems there are three broad and
interdependent components to the apiculture industry; Markets, Production,
and Product Quality. The industry’s expansion is usually limited by the
weakest component in this triad.
observations and accomplishments
- Expansion of the project’s original scope.
- While the Mabouya Valley Development Project and the Mellifluous
Beekeeper Co-op facilitated this visit, forethought by leaders in both
organizations (Mr. E. Agustus and Mr. W. Williams respectively) broadened
the project scope to include the entire industry and not solely their
respective memberships. Utilizing their extensive island wide networks these
organizations ensured contact with appropriate government agencies and a
diverse range of beekeepers.
- The close co-operation of Mr. Marcus Dennis, Bee Extensionist with the
Ministry of Agriculture, helped ensure that technologies suggested were
economically and culturally appropriate. The value of Mr. Dennis’
assistance, in arranging transport, contact with beekeepers, and the
development of the recommendations contained within this report cannot be
- Varroa mite control
- Mites on the island are presently being controlled with Apistan strips.
Ministry recommendations on the use of these strips have been appropriately
adjusted from N. American recommendations to reflect the biology of bees on
the Island. This adjustment is testament of the high degree of beekeeping
competence found within the island’s industry. However, the long term use of
Apistan has several disadvantages:
- Development of Apistan resistant mites (as reported widely in the USA
- Cost (EC$26 hive/year)
- Risk of contamination of hive products
- The need to proactively incorporate Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
practices as part of long-term mite control practices is a concept readily
embraced by all producers contacted. In fact, many had experimented with
cultural methods (i.e. drone trapping) but, like their American
counterparts, they abandoned these methods because of the inordinate amount
of time their implementation required. However, this experience did not seem
to dissuade St. Lucian beekeepers from a experimenting with new cultural
control methods. Many seemed committed to experimenting with screen bottom
boards when this technology was suggested and explained.
- In consultation with industry leaders, Dr. D. Gabriel (Chief Veterinary
Officer) and Mr. Dennis, a long-term mite control strategy was developed
(see recommended follow-up below).
- Barriers to Industry Expansion
Apiculture has a tremendous potential in St Lucia. Blessed with a diverse
geography, flora, and consistent and predicable rainy season, St Lucia is
presently nowhere near reaching its honey production capacity (Figure 2).
While predicting the number of colonies a particular location can maintain is
notoriously difficult, an extremely conservative value of one colony per acre
suggests that the island could support over 150,000 colonies. With annual
yields ranging from 3 to 8 gallons of honey/colony the potential value of the
St. Lucian honey crop is US $ 6.5 to $17.5 million . The estimated current
value of the industry is US $ 112,000 and $300,000 annually.
- “Market, Market, Market”, was the overwhelming response to the question
“What is your biggest problem as a beekeeper?” Many beekeepers have honey
stored in drums that they are not able to sell for lack of market.
Paradoxically, the domestic price of honey, both retail (Figure 1) and
wholesale, is considerably higher than the world price (See Table 1).
Confronted with this fact, beekeepers often argue that the honey produced on
the island is superior to “foreign” honey in taste and quality, and thus the
higher prices are justified. Such arguments are difficult to quantify and
thus not readily factored into the price paid by international packers.
Industry expansion would be greatly assisted if a St. Lucian
organization/person would facilitate the collection and sale of honey
internationally. While producers would receive substantially less for the
honey than they currently receive (if they can sell it), examples in other
agricultural sectors would suggest that a guaranteed market for an
agricultural product has significant advantages. Two examples that lend
credibility to this argument are the experiences/comments of Mr. Francis
Joseph and Mr. Lucien. Mr. Joseph a young entrepreneuring and successful
farmer (who is a FTF advisor, Trainee, and does not keep bees) grows hot
peppers on a large scale because a St. Lucian exporter assures him a market.
This steady income permits him and his wife, to support a young family while
making modest improvements to their small farm’s infrastructure. Similarly,
Mr. Lucien who grows bananas for export stated that he continues production
despite the low return on his investment simply because he is assured some
return. Mr. Joseph did imply he would consider going into beekeeping if a
guaranteed market were established; while Mr. Lucien indicated he would
likely increase the size of his operation to that of his pre-Varroa size of
120 colonies (presently he runs 20).
Table 1: Comparison of St. Lucian Domestic Price
of Honey with International Prices.
- The St Lucian beekeepers encountered on this trip were well versed in
basic bee management techniques and possessed a knowledge comparable to, if
not surpassing, that of their average American counterpart. At first the
beekeepers’ demonstrated competence seemed to contradict with some of their
‘in field’ practices. For instance, the largest producer on the island David
Estiphane (400 colonies which produce on average 6 gal/year), often
transports (by hand) extracting equipment to his respective apiaries (Figure
3). Most full time American honey producers build a dedicated honey house
and move their honey supers to the honey house for more efficient
extraction. However, considering the steep slopes which need to be traversed
to access Mr. Estiphane’s yards, and the fact that honey comb removed from
hives are quickly destroyed by wax moth larva (a pest easily controlled if
extracted supers are immediately placed back on bees), Mr. Estaphane’s
extraction system is likely the best system for honey harvest.
This is not to say that there is no room for improvement in St Lucian
beekeeping management practices. Generally, beekeepers could realize
significant increases in honey production if a full complement of frames
were consistently placed in colonies, thus avoiding the wasteful practice of
cutting burr comb. A simple appreciation that bees consume the equivalent of
approximately 1 gal of honey to produce 1 lb of wax should encourage more
care in hive comb management.
- Like all honey-producing areas, the quality of honey produced in St.
Lucia varies according to floral source, processing and handling, and
storage time and treatment. If international markets are to be cultured,
separation of the honey from different sources should be prioritized as
lighter honeys command a better price than dark honeys (US$1.36/lb for water
white grade vs. US$1.18/lb amber grade (2002 average price)). One of the
major nectar producing plants on the island is logwood, which produces a
honey renowned for its light color and taste. However, the tail end of
logwood tree bloom overlaps with that of mango tree bloom; since mango honey
is dark, keeping these two honeys separate, by strategically timing
extraction, would increase the resulting crops value.
- Direct Impact/Contacts
A wide cross section of the apicultural industry was contacted by direct
visitation. These visits included contact with hobby (making little to no
profit on their bees), sideline (who subsidize their annual income with their
bees) and commercial (who generate a majority of their annual income from
bees). In all 35 beekeepers operations were directly contacted (12 were
present during the tours of their operations; 17 were face to face contacts
without seeing their operations; and 6 operations were toured without the
beekeeper present). This represented nearly 35% of all honey producers on the
island. Further several government officials/offices were contacted, and
partners of the FTF program were meet. A national meeting organized by the
Mabouya Valley Development Project and the Mellifluous Beekeepers Co-op was
attended by 12 beekeepers, all but two of whom had not been contacted during
previous visits. A talk entitled “Varroa mites: Biology and Control” was
given, and the slide set was left for future use. After the formal talk
informal discussions lead by Mr. Marcus summarized some of the strategies
summarized in this report. In all an attendance at this meeting of about 10%
of the total beekeepers on the island and is quite remarkable compared to
attendance levels in typical N. American Bee meetings (i.e. Pennsylvanian
State beekeeper meetings are typically attended by less than 4% of active
It should be noted that the President of the National Beekeepers Association,
Mr. Jadgahar was contacted. Mr Jadgahar is clearly an industrious and highly
intelligent man with many important and valuable skills. Unfortunately, he had
clear ideas about what assistance the industry needed and seemed to dismiss
outright the value of any projects that focused on technology transfer,
industry empowerment, and/or market development rather then the direct
transfer of tangible resources.
|Important New FTF Contacts
||Apicultural Extensionist, Dept of Agr.
|Dr. D. Gabreil
||Chief Veterinarian Officer, Dept of Agr
||Farmer, and Beekeeper
|Mr. Louison Treasure
||Mellifluous Beekeepers Co-op
The following Strategic Plan was developed in collaboration with Marcus Dennis,
Apicultural Extensionist. In addition, leaders of the Bee Industry, attendees at
a national bee meeting, and St Lucia’s Chief Veterinarian Officer (Dr. Gabriel)
were consulted on all/part of the plan.
- Test various “less toxic” Varroa mite control products
If Varroa mites evolve resistance at a rate similar to that experienced in
Europe and N. America, one would expect Apistan resistant mites on the
island within 3 to 7 years. Use of less toxic alternatives could slow and
prepare for this eventuality.
- Action (responsible agent):
- Locate and import Liquid formic acid (65%) and/or other soft/organic
chemical control (i.e. bee calmer) (Dept of Agr./DvE)
- Develop experimental protocol (DvE)
- Implement experiment (Dept. of Agr; Beekeeper; possible parallel study
- Analysis of results (DvE)
- Disseminate findings (Dept. of Agr)
- Time line:
- Experiment should commence at end of late nectar flow (October 2003)
- Results should be available in March 2004.
- Develop the networks required to export honey
The single largest barrier to the apicultural industry’s expansion in St.
Lucia is the saturation of the domestic market and absence of alternative
markets. Of the 19 beekeepers directly interviewed 4 reported having stores
of honey on hand for more then one year (totaling over 5000 lbs). While
honey, stored properly, is non-perishable its value reduces significantly
over time as levels of HMF naturally increase, darkening the honey.
- Action (responsible agent):
- Contact American honey packers to determine import requirements and
- Set up St. Lucian honey broker (either an individual or organization)
to collect samples for American packers to analyze (Beekeepers/FTF
partners/Min of Agr.?)
- Arrange collection and honey shipment (Beekeepers/FTF partners/Min of
- Arrange transport of honey from port of entry to packer (FTF
- Time Line
- Contact with Dutch Gold Honey Packers have been made (Vice President
of sales Ms. Gamber (1800 338-0587)). Discussions concluded with her
recommendation that the an import broker be contacted directly, and
subsequently Mr. Nick Sargent of Sunland Imports was contacted. He
highlighted that it would be difficult to import honey unless enough was
imported to fill a standard shipping container (60 55 gal drums). He also
outlined some of the requirements needed for imports (i.e. sampling etc.)
An initial export of 40 000 lbs, which represents between 35 and 75 % of
the present annual production of St. Lucia seems impractical at this time.
However, alternative strategies, such as exploring the possibility of
sharing cargo room with other exporters through local exporting companies
should not be ruled out. Similarly, establishing agents in the US who
would help facilitate the import of honey at a smaller scale should be
- Persons involved with the export of products should be made aware of
changing import food laws mandated by the US federal government (see
http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/%7Edms/fsbtact2.html) to ensure compliance.
- Quantifying Apiculture’s contribution to St. Lucian Economy
When seeking funding and/or other resources for development projects, basic
industry facts assist in arguments used to justify projects, help quantify
project impact, and eventually help asses project success
- Action (responsible agent):
- Quantify the value of honey production in St Lucia (M.Dennis and DvE)
- Quantify the contribution honey bees make to St Lucian agriculture
through the pollination of food crops (M.Dennis and DvE)
- Quantify the potential value of honey production in St. Lucia
(M.Dennis and DvE)
- c. Time Line:
- Collection of basic industry facts (M.Dennis –complete)
- Tabulate Honey production value and estimated potential (M. Dennis and
DvE – complete – see above)
- Collect production figures for crops reliant on pollination for fruit
set (M. Dennis – by September)
- Research the % reliance of identified crops on honey bees for
pollination and thereby determine the monetary value of honey bee
pollination service (DvE –by October).
Development of Mite Resistant Honey Bee Stock bred to maximize production in
St. Lucia’s climate
The best mite control is the use of mite resistant bee stock. Projects that
aim to develop such a stock have been initiated throughout the world
resulting, most recently, with the distribution of SMR resistant stock in the
USA. However, due to the difficulty inherent in any honey bee breeding
project, breeding efforts have solely focused on mite resistance. Once
successful, the traits that facilitated resistance should be integrated into a
stock that demonstrates other economically important traits. As bee behavior
is significantly influenced by environmental factors, the best approach to
development of resistant stock would be the incorporation of resistant genes
into stocks of bee selected for St. Lucian conditions. Such incorporation is
not technically difficult; however, would require an honest, transparent, and
detailed risk analysis; beekeepers trained in queen rearing and basic bee
breeding concepts and practice; the identification of superior St. Lucian
stock; followed by a controlled introduction and distribution of resistant
stock. Each of these components would empower the industry, potentially train
new beekeepers and industry leaders, increase island production, and decrease
the industry’s reliance on imported inputs. Further, the development of a
domestic queen rearing and bee breeding will decrease the likelihood of
importation of Africanized bees or other bee diseases as the availability of
quality queens will decrease the temptation to import queens from other
countries (as is the suspected mode of entry of Varroa mites in 1998).
- Perform a detailed Island wide survey for all known honeybee
pathogens. Detection should not be limited to well known honey bee pests
(Acrapisi woodii, Nosema sp., Panabacilus larvae subsp larvae, etc) thought
to be absent in St. Lucia; but also include testing for the presence/absence
of honey bee viruses. Few labs are capable of detecting honey bee viruses,
so one of these (ie. Penn State, Department of Entomology) would need to be
recruited to collaborate in this project. This step is crucial as recent
research clearly shows that viruses may cause significant, previously
unexplained, hive mortality. Further some of these viruses may be
transferred in eggs laid by infected queens as well as by Varroa mites.
- Conduct Queen Rearing and Bee Breeding workshops:
- Will identify and train industry leader who will eventually assist in
the production and distribution of resistant stock. Even if the industry
chooses not to import resistant stock, participants in this workshop would
learn the necessary skills to improve native stock. Development of a
regular supply of quality queens should help the industry expand as it
would allow certain beekeepers to produce and sell colonies of bees,
foregoing the present practice which requires new beekeepers to find and
catch feral bee colonies.
- Conducting this workshop could overlap with the disease survey to
maximize utilization of resources.
- Import and distribution of mite resistant stock
- After assessing the risks involved in importing resistant stock, an
importation protocol that minimizes introduction of new bee diseases
should be established. Protocols developed for stock introduction into
Canada and the USA in the 1980’s and 1990’s should be consulted.
- Collaboration with researchers currently involved in the production of
SMR (or other resistant stocks) should be sought and controlled
importation should commence.
- Selected queen producers should prepare for mass production of virgin
queens, which should then be distributed island wide, dispersing the
desired resistant traits.
- Co-operating beekeepers should continue to selectively breed colonies
which demonstrate several desirable traits.
- Time Line:
This is a large, involved project and would require the identification of an a
Northern expert who could facilitate contacts, identify grants, and facilitate
communication between St. Lucian collaborators/stakeholders and their American
counter parts (or EU counter parts). Initial discussions in St. Lucia and with
Penn State indicate a general interest that could easily be fostered into this