Beekeepers from across the Pacific are meeting in Fiji for the inaugural Pacific Islands Beekeeping Congress.
The congress brings more than 200 beekeepers from 10 different Pacific Island countries together to learn, network, and strengthen beekeeping industry skills, knowledge and partnerships in the region.
The initiative has stemmed from an ACIAR-funded research project led by Southern Cross University (SCU) aiming to improve the productivity and profitability of smallholder beekeeping.
The event, the first of its kind for the region, is being delivered in partnership with the Fiji Beekeepers Association and the Pacific Island Farmers Organisation Network (PIFON).
‘The Congress is an opportunity for Pacific beekeepers to share lessons learnt, network and gain practical skills and knowledge that they can take home and implement in their industries,’ said project leader and SCU Lecturer Dr Cooper Schouten.
‘The project team have been working together to conduct research and training to increase the productivity of smallholder bee businesses through queen bee breeding, value added product development and capacity building for improved control of pest and diseases to improve regional honey bee biosecurity.’
Dr Anna Okello, ACIAR Research Program Manager, Livestock Systems, said the congress would be instrumental in furthering efforts to manage regional beekeeping issues, especially biosecurity threats like Varroa and Tropilaelaps mites.
‘The ACIAR Livestock Bee Team has placed significant emphasis on enhancing regional honey bee research and development capacities, devising strategies to tackle bee pests and diseases, and advancing beekeeping practices to foster the growth of smallholder beekeeping family businesses in the Pacific region,’ said Dr Okello.
‘Improving community-based control of diseases in the Pacific that constrain production and trade of bees, honey and other bee products is important that will have direct benefits to Australia.
‘We’ve seen firsthand in Australia how devastating bee diseases can be, and anything we can do to improve the region’s biosecurity capacity is invaluable to food security and rural livelihoods,’ added Dr Okello.
PIFON Project co-ordinator and congress organising committee member Ian Kennedy said the event would be monumental for beekeeping in the region.
‘The congress is bringing together Fijian beekeepers and beekeepers throughout the Pacific, combining discussions and roundtables on the most pressing and challenging issues. The congress will also feature practical and relevant hands-on workshops,’ he said.
‘Despite having low numbers of beehives and low production in comparison to world standards, beekeeping in the Pacific region has been shown to have a higher return on time investment than any other crop or livestock production systems. Additionally, beekeeping has a major contribution to income smoothing given the non-perishable nature of bee products,’ Mr Kennedy said.
Congress participants include beekeepers, government and industry representatives from Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna, Cook Islands, New Zealand, and Australia.
The 4-year project is led by Southern Cross University, working in collaboration with the PNG National Department of Agriculture and Livestock, PNG Coffee Industry Corporation, Fiji Ministry of Agriculture, Fiji Beekeepers Association and Biosecurity Authority of Fiji.