Last month on this blog I featured an interview about beekeeping in the al-Qardaha area in Latakia province and how it has been impacted because of the war and the deterioration in the economic situation. Owing to the popular reception of that interview, I decided to continue on the subject of beekeeping and interviewed on 13 July 2020 a beekeeper based in Deraa province in southern Syria. The interview is slightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Q: Can you tell me a little about yourself? How many years have you been working in beekeeping? How has the beekeeping been in recent years especially amid the war?
A: I am [redacted] from Inkhil, from Deraa province. I have been keeping bees for a long time, since the days of my father who had bees. And I inherited the profession of beekeeping from my father. Later I began studying the bees as well, not just traditional learning. I would bring books and study about bees to learn about their life. Of course I took inheritances from my father as I told you because beekeeping was an embodiment of a traditional means as you know. Not much science in it. But I before the revolution was bringing books about bees so that I might know the correct means of life and how one should deal with bees and the illnesses that strike them, the medicines that you need to treat the bees for these illnesses. I learnt all of this through books.
And you are asking me about the life of the bees after the events that arose. As you know, the bees are supposed to move about in hives from one pasture to another, even from one province to another we used to go. But as a result of the events and the checkpoints as you know we were unable to move about with the bees, because we put them in wooden boxes and move about in the night, but it was not possible for someone to cross the checkpoints, so the bees remained in the places of the province or village. We were no longer able to take them to the pastures in all the areas of Syria.
As a result of the revolution and the events, there has been a decrease in the production of honey. It has also led to a decrease in the bees, even in Syria in the general sense, perhaps a decrease of more than half, because as you know there are many people as a result of the events and the war have abandoned beekeeping, and there are those who have travelled and have become displaced and fled far removed from the circumstances of the bees.
But I see here in my province as you know, I have noticed people are returning to beekeeping, there are many people returning to beekeeping as a result of the fact that life is harsh so people need to rely on resources like the bees, which are considered more or less an okay economic resource, so many people are returning to beekeeping and want to live and cannot travel and there is no travel, there is not much work, so people have been returning to beekeeping and agriculture and these things.
Q: Between which provinces did you move for beekeeping? Also how has the issue of the rise of the price of the dollar impacted beekeeping and the prices of honey etc.? What is the price of a kilo of honey approximately and what was the price a year ago? Also the prices of the foundational goods- the necessities of the bees? Have the policies of the Syrian government helped the beekeepers or not helped them?
A: Regarding the moving about before the events, in the provinces we would move the bees to the northeastern regions in Syria: al-Hasakah, al-Raqqa and Deir az-Zor, because there they grow cotton in big quantities. So the beekeeper after a month, after cutting the honey, which is called the spring piece in Hawran, when the season of spring and flowers in Hawran ends in the fifth or sixth month among us here, the honey is cut which is called the spring piece. And at the end of the month of July, we would take the bees to the areas of al-Hasakah and al-Raqqa because the cotton flower would have bloomed in the month of August approximately, so we would put the bees in al-Raqqa and al-Hasakah and the eastern areas of Syria for a period of month or more than a month until the honey of the cotton flower should come. Of course the honey of the cotton flower is cheaper than the spring honey here in the spring of Hawran or spring of Syria in the fifth or sixth month, around 50% cheaper. So we would move to al-Raqqa and al-Hasakah and these areas.
Of course the prices of honey have different: before the rise of the price of the dollar, the price of a kilo of honey in Syria was from 500 to 1000 Syrian pounds. As a result of the rise of the price of the dollar, the price began to rise: it became 2000, later 3000 Syrian pounds. A year ago it was 7000-8000 Syrian pounds but in the coming year the dollar rose greatly so the dollar among us has become around 2500-3000 Syrian pounds so the price of honey has become around 20,000-25,000 Syrian pounds. Of course the pure and clean honey, and not the tampered honey, here in our province of Deraa it has varied from 20,000 up to 25,000 Syrian pounds.
Also the necessities of bees, their prices have risen with the rise of the price of the dollar. The foundational wax that we put in the frame and is combed in the frame and we make the wax. As you know, the wax is imported and comes from China. Also it has risen in price with the rise of the price of the dollar. And the necessities of the bees: the wood as well as the hive is an embodiment of something made of wood. Also the wood has risen in price with the rise of the price of the dollar. The beehive of wood here has become around 50,000 to 60,000 Syrian pounds. We could buy it at around 60,000 Syrian pounds. It has become very expensive.
Also the necessities of bees require sugar to feed the bees during the winter. As you know, they rely on sugar. The sugar substance among us has also risen in price greatly with the rise of the price of the dollar because as you know this is an imported substance. As for government support, there is no government support at all. For example there is no support for the sugar for the bees and everything of the beekeeper. No, there is no support. There is no support at all, not even any of the necessities.
Q: Are there no associations for example for the beekeepers? And in your opinion what is the reason of the rise of the price of the dollar? Because of the sanctions on Syria or what? Likewise it is said that the use of pesticides has harmed the bees in addition to the weather. Not much rain during the past years. So it has impacted the beekeeping and production of honey.
A: No no, there are no associations here. As you know, with the war here. What associations? If people do not know how aid will come for them, how will aid come for the bees? I wish there would come aid for the people. Because of the expensiveness of the dollar. Also you ask about the issue of pesticides: of course this thing is leading to a decrease in the bees not only on the level of Syria but also in the entire world. There are even studies that say that the bees are diminishing as a result of the pesticides that are sprayed on farms by farmers leading to the death of bees in a great sense even at the level of the world.
Of course the rise of the price of the dollar is a result of the sanctions, a result of the war here. As you know, these things have led to the rise of the price of the dollar and the rise of the price of everything.
Q: If the situation continues like this is it possible you will have to leave beekeeping and move to another job because of this situation?
A: Yes, by God. It is the case that a person instead of keeping 100 hives: because if you have 100 hives, you need the sugar and the medicines, the costs are very high. So you decrease the number of hives you need to keep: only 10 or 15 hives, as a result of the rise of the price of the sugar and medicines, they have risen greatly in price. And as a result of the weakness of purchase power, as you know in our land here the kilo of honey is around 20,000 Syrian pounds or 25,000 Syrian pounds the consumption is becoming little and there is no exporting, because there is no governmental support for the bees or honey for the export of honey or preserve it. As a result of these things, as I told you, there are no associations or support at all, because as you know, the people need things like food, so how will they support the bees?
Q: Yes, true, true. Do you have a message for the world or the Syrian government for example?
A: Yes, because the bees are very important. And the substance of honey is very important: it is medicine and food at the same time. And the Syrian bees are registered as one of the important types of bees in the world in terms of gathering honey from the bees. They consider it very good and resistant to diseases: the Syrian bee, classified globally. So as you know there must be support for the beekeepers so they can continue to preserve the Syrian bees: this good type. There should be governmental support, support even from associations for the beekeeper, and there should be exporting of the honey substance so there should be good economic revenue.