It's all about honey and bees in Slovenia
Ljubljana, 20 May - Beekeeping is one of the oldest activities of Slovenians', which has recently seen a revival. The campaign promoting the role of Slovenia's protected native Carniolan honey bee, as well as honey and honey products has culminated with Slovenia's efforts to have the UN declare 20 May World Honey Bee Day.
Beekeeping in Slovenia is an indicator of concern for the environment and nature, according to State Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fotestry and Food Tanja Strniša.
The sector is very progressive and proactive. There are currently some 10,000 beekeepers in Slovenia, who have a total of 176,000 bee colonies, comprised of 20,000-80,000 female worker bees.
They produce 1,500-2,500 tonnes of honey a year and annual consumption has risen from a kilo per person in 2000 to 1.4 kilo, according to official statistics.
Slovenia was labelled the "heart and soul of beekeeping" in Europe by the head of the International Federation of Beekeepers' Associations Apimondia, Philip McCabe, at this year's ApiSlovenija beekeeping fair in Celje in March, the biggest exhibition of apiculture in the region.
The head of the Slovenian Beekeepers' Association, Boštjan Noč, too feels that beekeeping in Slovenia is among the best developed in the world.
Slovenia boasts three EU-protected types of honey: the Slovenian honey with the protected geographical designation, meaning the acacia, lime, chestnut, fir, spruce, floral and forest honey produced in Slovenia, the Kočevje forest honey and the honey from the Kras region.
Beekeepers are increasingly expanding their activities to apitourism, apitherapy as well as to making honey desserts and spirits, Noč has told the STA.
"The interest in beekeeping in Slovenia is rising by the day. In the last ten years, almost 4,000 signed up for beginners' courses, over 170 schools offer beekeeping as an extracurricular activity..."
The Beekeepers' Association has significantly contributed to this trend by launching a nation-wide campaign in 2010 promoting the traditional Slovenian breakfast consisting of bread, butter, honey, milk and apples at schools and kindergartens.
In the years since the first traditional Slovenian breakfast, which has now grown into the Day of Slovenian Food, Slovenian beekeepers have donated more than ten tonnes of honey to schools and kindergartens, according to Noč.
"The number of beekeeping clubs in schools has risen from 60 to 170 and honey consumption has increased by almost 100%," said Noč.
Increasingly many other countries are also joining in the campaign promoting a diet of healthy and locally-produced food.
The association also donates honey plants that school children plant to enrich bee pastures. This year, it distributed 1,300 linden plants and sunflower seeds.
In 2014, it gave an initiative to declare 20 May World Honey Bee Day to honour the birthday of Slovenia's pioneer beekeper Anton Janša (1734-1773). Janša is considered the first teacher of modern beekeeping in the world.
After the Council of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) backed Slovenia's bid last December, FAO is expected to give the initiative the green light at the 40th FAO Conference in July.
This is considered the final step before the UN General Assembly can endorse the bid with a resolution in the second half of the year.
The Slovenian government backed the initiative and even placed a beehive on a balcony of the Government Building last September and bees were placed there last month.
Interestingly, urban beekeeping has become quite popular in the capital, where beehives can be found on various public buildings, including Slovenia's main culture centre Cankarjev dom. An association of urban beekeepers was founded in Ljubljana in 2014.
Slovenia also boasts a museum of apiculture in Radovljica and beekeepers across the country are connected in local beekeepers' associations.
A unique feature of beekeeping in Slovenia is the colourful fronts of beehives. Typically, they are decorated with paintings depicting scenes and characters from folk tales. This helps bees find their way into beehives and makes it easier for the beekeeper to distinguish between bees colonies.
Slovenian beekeepers produce about 2,000 tonnes of honey a year, depending on weather conditions, official statistics show, while the annual domestic demand ranges from 2,500 to 3,000 tonnes.
Honey imports have therefore been on the rise, with most honey coming from Germany in recent years.
Slovenia, however, also exports some of its production, mostly to Kosovo and Japan.