Sun may set soon on beleaguered beekeepers

Updated: 2015-07-17 07:52

By He Na(China Daily)

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The newcomer

Chen Zongtao is the exception that proves the rule. The 52-year-old has more than 200 beehives, and is one of Yichun's most successful bee farmers. Unlike Yan, though, Chen is a newcomer. Last year, the laid-off forestry worker borrowed 200,000 yuan to buy the hives, bees and other equipment.

"In summer, the sun sets at 8 pm and rises at 3 am. Honeybees follow that pattern when they're making honey, so I have to start work earlier than they do. In the past two months I've only slept four hours a day," he said.

Chen is trying to turn his life around. He is a recovering alcoholic, and has lived alone since his wife left him and took their children with her. "I chose this hard life because I want to show them that I've changed. I want to win back their hearts," he said.

Although he was prepared to face hardships and stings, he underestimated the risky nature of the business. Last year, his inexperience resulted in the bees dying in 30 of his 50 hives, so he has hired an experienced beekeeper from Anhui province to oversee this year's yield. "Everything is on track now, and I'm praying for a 'weather blessing', " he joked.

"I don't know anything about the Internet. I just plan to cultivate some old customers. There will always be a market for good honey," he said.

Looking ahead

Wu Jie, a researcher at the Bee Research Institute at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, said, "The lack of talent and new blood has become the major obstacle for China's apiculture industry. Improving the living standards of China's bee farmers and raising their incomes are at the top of the industry's agenda."

He pointed out that Chinese beekeepers mainly learn their skills from their parents, but the family unit and traditional beekeeping methods limit the number of hives per household to between 60 and 100.

"However, in Western countries, depending on the mode of work and the level of mechanization, one family can keep 300 to 600 beehives, meaning their income is eight to 10 times that of Chinese beekeepers," he said.

"Establishing beekeeping cooperatives, gradually raising standards and increasing the use of mechanization will be vital for the development of apiculture in China."

Zhou Huiying and Ju Chuanjiang contributed to this story.

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