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Investing in beekeeping

Friday 3 February 2023 | Written by Losirene Lacanivalu | Published in Local, National

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Investing in  beekeeping
Beekeeper Alistair Macquarie during the Beekeeping Training at the Ministry of Agriculture on February 2. 23020206 / 23020207

A Rarotonga beekeeper is working with the Ministry of Agriculture to boost and encourage Cook Islanders to venture into the beekeeping, honey making industry.

Beekeeper Alistair Macquarie and Ministry of Agriculture staff Omar Urirau presented the techniques and brief details of how to start beekeeping to interested participants this week.

It was in primary school when Macquarie’s grandfather gave him a beekeeper’s suit and got him to hold a bee smoker.

Macquarie was even given a hive of his own and that is when he knew this was something he wanted to venture into.

“That was mine to look after and take care of. From that I started doing my own hives,” he said.

Unfortunately, when Cyclone Sally hit the Cook Islands in 1987, Macquarie lost a lot of his beehives.

He got busy at Air Rarotonga and did not have time to get back into beekeeping even though he wanted to. 

And about three years ago, he was given the opportunity to rekindle his love of bees.

He said when he saw a swarm of bees in his father-in-law’s shipping container, he got hold of his old equipment, bought some boxes and started his first hive.

“So it was an opportunity to get some bees – need bees to start. I had my old equipment, bought some boxes and started that first hive.”

He said from there, he got four more hives and now has around 30 hives.

Macquarie said he harvested some honey last year and sold them and was ready to harvest more.

He encourages people to plant citrus and fruit trees to help beekeepers have access to more nectar for their bees.

“I have experienced and found out there are not enough sources for nectar for bees to establish a thriving bee industry here, commercially.

“We have trouble putting six hives at home, not enough nectar, so I have two separate sites for the bees.”

The Apis mellifera – European honey bee – is the species of bee that is found in the Cook Islands.

Macquarie says it is dangerous to bring bees or related products from overseas because of the honey bee diseases.

“The only country that has advertised so far that is disease free is Niue. We are also disease free,” he said.

He is seeking help from the Ministry of Agriculture to get more specialists from New Zealand, like beekeeping advisor David Cramp, and check the bee hives in the Cook Islands “so it can be formally listed as disease free”.

Cramp was in Rarotonga a year ago working with the Ministry of Agriculture and beekeepers in the community and had written a manual – the first “A Guide to Beekeeping in the Cook Islands”.

Macquarie said more work was needed so New Zealand could recognise Cook Islands as disease free and honey export could begin.

He said this would also allow tourists/visitors to take honey products overseas, creating revenue for local beekeepers.

Agriculture staff Urirau said the beekeeping initiative began last year. The Agriculture ministry is starting a programme for Cook Islanders to invest in beekeeping, he says.

He said the beekeeping industry has the potential to create revenue.

Urirau said they would be taking the training to the Pa Enua, and had already started with Mauke last year.

There was a positive turn out of interested beekeepers at the training on Thursday.

There are about 12 beekeepers in Rarotonga and Mauke has five.