Sun may set soon on beleaguered beekeepers

Updated: 2015-07-17 07:52

By He Na(China Daily)

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Sun may set soon on beleaguered beekeepers

From left: Honeybees at work in a hive. Queen Bee larvae are raised artificially to produce royal jelly. Yan Fengbo and his wife Wang Wei are the youngest beekeepers in Yichun. 

"Each honeybee only lives for 40 days, and in its 23-day working life it can make 5 grams of honey at most. We should cherish every drop, because it's hard work, both for the beekeepers and the little creatures," Yan said.

He's a reserved man, and rarely makes eye-to-eye contact, but when talk turns to beekeeping, he's a different person: informative and confident.

"Getting along with honeybees is simpler than dealing with people. The longer you keep honeybees, the more you love them. They are really selfless, honest and diligent. They have so many qualities people need to learn," Yan said.

"They also have emotions, and the honey they make when they are happy is the very best," he said.

Low status

Yan's goal is for his bees to work happily, but Wang said making her husband happy is hard work. In Western countries, beekeepers have an enviable life, with a reasonable social status and good incomes. In China, beekeeping is considered one of the hardest jobs in the countryside.

In a good year, with mild temperatures and a fruitful spring, Yan can harvest about 1,500 kg of honey, which brings him 30,000 yuan ($4,830), but in a poor year the profit plummets.

Last year, a torrent of floodwater surged down the mountainside after a heavy storm, washing away half of his hives. The cost of replacing them almost wiped out Yan's funds.

"High-quality honey is sold at a high price in the supermarket - generally more than 200 yuan a kilogram - but our produce is sold at a really low price, just 40 yuan per kilo," he said.

"This year, the temperature is lower than usual, so the yield will be affected. But we will still only be paid 40 yuan, the same as last year, so my efforts are never fully rewarded. Instead, my family and friends look down on me - it's hard to be a happy beekeeper," he said, adding that he and Wang will soon start looking for temporary winter jobs.

Variations of Yan's story can be heard from beekeepers across China. Every year from March to October, they toil to produce the delicacy, but the constant hardships and poor financial rewards mean a growing number are looking for other work.

"If it were not for my daughter, we might have moved south for factory work a few years ago," Yan said.