Following up on a three-year diplomatic trend, Slovenia managed to register May 20 at the UN as the World Bee Day and make it a point where the preservation and protection of pollinators, bees in particular, win the attention of various countries. On celebrating so, we found the opportunity to conduct an interview with the Ambassador of Slovenia to Iran on the importance of beekeeping and efficient use of bee products in a thorough manner which you may find below.
AVA Diplomatic’s Exclusive Interview with
Ambassador of the Republic of Slovenia, H.E. Kristina Radej
Interview by Mohammadreza Nazari
What purpose did the celebration of the World Bee Day had in Iran?
The World Bee Day celebration captures the importance of bees as pollinators for biodiversity and food security; it also underlines the growing recognition of urgency required to address challenges brought about by the decline in bee population.
In recent years, bees and other pollinators have become increasingly endangered, which largely resulted from changes in land use and landscape structure, intensive agricultural practices, monocultures, emergence of new pests and disease, the use of pesticides and climate change. In case of Iran, in several provinces bees and beehives were seriously affected by the recent floods.
The World Bee Day celebration is intended to raising awareness about the importance of bees and bee products as well as efforts of protecting bees and the beekeeping sector. The objective of Slovenia is to contribute to international cooperation in tackling global challenges in terms of global food security, eradication of hunger and malnutrition and preserving the environment from further losses in biodiversity and degradation of ecosystem services.
The World Bee Day offers many opportunities for strengthening cooperation between Slovenia and Iran.
What did Slovenia go through at the UNGA to pass a bill for the World Bee Day?
In 2006, on the initiative of the Slovenian Beekeepers’ Association and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food of the Republic of Slovenia, we started the educational-promotional campaign in kindergartens and primary schools called ”Traditional Slovenian Honey Breakfasts”. This campaign has exceeded all our expectations, since its results are excellent. Above all, children and indirectly all of the Slovenian public had a chance to thoroughly get to know everything about Slovenian beekeeping, the importance of bees, and the importance of the consumption of bee products.
On the basis of good practice carried out in Slovenia, Slovenia took the initiative to launch the European Honey Breakfast in March 2014 at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels. The initiative was warmly welcomed by many European ministers and the Commissioner of Agriculture. The ”European Honey Breakfast” spread across Europe; beside the EU Member States, candidate countries for accession to the EU and third countries have also shown an interest in participating.
In recent years, at the international level and due to its international activities related to bees and beekeeping, Slovenia has been identified as a country where this field has a special place and receives special care. Therefore, in April 2015 the Slovenian Government has decided to further upgrade these activities and to submit a proposal for the proclamation of the World Bee Day within the framework of the United Nations. Together with the Beekeepers’ Association and other institutions, the Government strived for the proclamation of this day, supported also by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Slovenia had proposed that the day is observed in May, when honey bees in the Northern Hemisphere are the most active and start to reproduce, while the need for pollination is also the highest in this period. Slovenia had lobbied hard for the initiative and 115 countries co-sponsored the resolution to mark World Bee Day on 20 May.
In Slovenia, 20 May is known as the birthday of Anton Janša (1734–1773), the pioneer of modern beekeeping. Janša was the first teacher of modern beekeeping in the world. In 1770, he became the first royally appointed teacher of apiculture, as Empress Maria Theresa appointed him the head of the first beekeeping school in Vienna. Drawing from a hundred-year tradition of beekeeping, he laid the foundations of modern beekeeping.
In December 2017 the UN General Assembly unanimously endorsed Slovenia’s initiative to declare 20 May the World Bee Day. The Resolution calls on UN member states to “observe World Bee Day through education and activities aimed at raising awareness of the importance of bees and other pollinators, the threats that they face and their contribution to sustainable development.”
What efforts has Slovenia made to raise awareness on the importance of bees, the pollination they provide and their contribution to sustainable agriculture?
Slovenia stresses the importance of bees and implements numerous national, European and FAO programs or measures in the field of beekeeping. Slovenia is a home of autochthonous Carniolan honey bee and has around 8.000 beekeepers, therefore four beekeepers per 1.000 inhabitants, which means that the Slovenes are truly a nation of beekeepers. As a country with long tradition in beekeeping we are sharing our experiences and knowledge to contribute to the sustainable development and sustainable agriculture as well as progress of other countries in this field.
How effective has the development of bee keeping been on the cooperation between Iran and Slovenia?
We are paying a significant attention to the promotion of the World Bee Day goals, including raising awareness on importance of wild pollinators and beekeeping. For this purpose we placed a typical Slovene beehive in the Embassy garden with families of Iranian and Slovenian bees, which are well known to some Iranian beekeepers and inspires urban beekeeping.
We are also organizing art workshops and Traditional Slovenian Honey Breakfasts – educational-promotional campaigns for kindergartens and primary schools children in Tehran. In the efforts to bring beekeeping closer to Iranian children, we printed a children’s book Buffalos and the Lilium
(The Bee Saves the World) with a fairy tale about bees, which we published in three languages – Slovenian, Farsi and English.
Several Iranian beekeepers are planning to attend trainings at the Slovenian Beekeeping Academy, which was established in response to a growing demand from abroad for the rich knowledge of Slovenian beekeepers. They will also participate in different Api Programs in Slovenia.
In the context of devastating floods in Iran, I would like to highlight the willingness of Slovenian beekeepers to assist Iranian colleagues in the affected provinces. All Slovenian beekeepers, with the cooperation of Slovenian Government are ready to offer a significant donation of bee families and bee queens which will contribute to the restoration of Iranian beekeeping in the most affected areas.
Slovenia’s focus of this year’s World Bee Day is the empowerment of women through beekeeping. In this context, our Embassy, in cooperation with Iranian partners and UNHCR Office in Tehran, is preparing special beekeeping workshops for girls of Afghan refugees in Iran. We firmly believe that such vocational training can provide this sensitive refugee group with necessary knowledge and skills for their independent life, preferably in their country. With these projects we would also like to help our Iranian partners reducing the burden of taking care of Afghan refugees in Iran.
Bee-originated products are used in various industries including food, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. What cooperation do the two countries have in these regards?
Slovenian exporters are interested in cooperation with Iran in bee-originated products, used in various industries, including food, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and can also offer beekeeping equipment. We are discussing the possibilities of signing a Memorandum of Understanding between respective ministries of both countries, responsible for agriculture and food, and believe that Iranian institutions will speed up the process of approving all necessary permits for mutual cooperation in this area.
There is an international Bee-keeping academy in Slovenia where Iranian beekeepers can take part in instructional programs. Has there been any invitation to them thus far?
With declaration of the World Bee Day and increasing interest in additional knowledge and education in the field of beekeeping, Slovenian Government established the International Beekeeping Academy in Slovenia. The main mission of the Academy, which is a department of the Agricultural Institute of Slovenia, is to improve knowledge in the field of apiculture in the international arena, promote beekeeping, biodiversity, tourism, improve employment opportunities and raise awareness of the importance of bees and pollination.
I am pleased to inform you that cooperation between Slovenian and Iranian experts in the field of beekeeping is progressing well. Several Iranian beekeepers are planning to attend classes at the Slovenian Beekeeping Academy. They will also participate in programs orientated at Api Tourism and Api Well-being, which significantly contribute to the sustainable development of green ecotourism.
Iranian beekeepers are increasingly interested in Slovenian beekeeping knowledge, technologies and specialized equipment. Therefore, we will continue cooperating with our Iranian partners in different areas, including organizing different workshops in Iran with participation of Slovenian instructors.
Iranian beekeepers and honey producers will have already in June opportunity to participate to lectures by Slovenian experts. They will present traditional Slovene methods in beekeeping with special attention to health topics.
I would also like to announce a visit of the president of the International Federation of Beekeepers’ Associations – Apimondia dr. Peter Kozmus to Iran on the occasion of international and national beekeeping congress in Karaj on 22nd and 23rd of January next year.
Apitourism forms a major part of tourism in Slovenia. What aspects does it cover exactly?
Apitourism (from the Latin apis which means bee) is unique to Slovenia as it is the first – and only – country to certify apitourism providers. Apitourism (also known as bee tourism) gives a fresh approach to eco conscious travel. It invites you on a journey into the fascinating world of bees, presenting you with the country’s cultural heritage and natural beauty. In Slovenia, a country of unique apiculture with a long beekeeping tradition, apitourism offers a new kind of holiday with a positive impact.
Api Experiences Beyond Beekeeping provide an opportunity to become intimate with Slovenia’s nature, culture and traditions, its exceptional cuisine and warm-hearted people. In addition to being a showcase for an apicultural tradition as well as an occasion to become familiar with some unique beekeeping practices, the aim is to raise awareness as to the importance of bees to mankind, enrich knowledge about the use and effects of bee products, preparations and apitherapy, and enhance people’s well-being.
In the framework of apitourism tourists can try bee products, a number of which enjoy medicinal applications, including some renowned meads and honey with beetroot. They can take pleasure in api-cuisine, and participate in a workshop on cooking with honey or making honey dough dishes, baking honey breads, pastries and confectionary. They can try beeswax candle making or decorating a beehive front panel.
Api Well-being is a philosophy and way of life aimed at engendering physical and psychological contentment; it reveals how to strengthen your body, mind and spirit through the knowledge and use of bee products and preparations. With coaching and treatment that integrates the natural and the man-made, Api Well-being programs in Slovenia offer a guide in maintaining one’s health and a proper balance in life, as well as developing sincere relationships.
The hive fragrance that beekeepers inhale while working or resting in the bee house is most pleasant and beneficent. Because of the free circulation of aromatic air from the hives, such bee houses engender an extremely fine microclimate which exerts a favourable effect on the human respiratory system and well-being in general. Thus some beekeepers place beds within them, thereby transforming the bee house into an api-therapeutic chamber. Indeed, it is believed that pollen allergies can be cured through the regular and timely inhalation of air from beehives.
Even more beneficial to human health is the regular consumption of honey and other bee products, whose composition and characteristics are well known to every beekeeper. It is well known that beekeepers, prone to being stung, are less prone to various rheumatic ailments, largely because of their exposure to bee venom. Today apitherapy is a widely-established discipline, serving as a beneficial supplement to traditional medicine.
It is about authentic travel which enriches one’s life and strengthens one’s connection with nature, culture and society. This merger of apiculture and travel opportunities thus becomes api-tourism in Slovenia.
Due to the extensive use of strong insecticides in agriculture, bees and many other pollinators have become endangered. Has Slovenia come up with any measures to solve this problem?
Slovenia is promoting sustainable agriculture and implements numerous national and European programs or measures in the field of beekeeping. It adopts strict legislation in this area, including bee house registration. Most of the apiaries in Slovenia are permanently placed on one location, if possible in the vicinity of the beekeeper’s home. This method of beekeeping depends completely on the local flora and the microclimate of the surroundings. Migratory or mobile beekeeping was developed to allow for tracking specific plant varieties and a better yield during the foraging season.
The breeding program for the Carniolan Honey Bee is being implemented by the Agricultural Institute of Slovenia. The queen breeders registered according to the program have started to exchange genetic material for the purpose of evaluating characteristics and progeny-testing. The breeding program is updated every five years.
Through the professional education of beekeepers and the adaptation of beekeeping approaches and technologies as well as planting of honey plants that are more resistant to the pests and changing climate, we contribute to mitigating and adapting beekeeping to environmental and other challenges.
Slovenia launched a pilot project in Bangladesh to show how food safety can be maintained and used to fight hunger. Is it possible to have a joint similar project with Iran, too?
The “Beekeeping in Bangladesh” pilot project has been conceived following the demand for Slovenia’s rich expertise in the field of beekeeping, as expressed by the largest NGO, ”BRAC”, which promotes development and assistance in the most deprived countries.
The aim of the project is to develop small-scale family-run beekeeping establishments which will contribute to the household income, thus improving the quality of life for participants in Bangladesh. Another aim of the project is to raise the level of the whole technology of beekeeping in Bangladesh.
The implementation of the project takes the form of a training program carried out by Slovenian International Beekeeping Academy mobile trainers, who train groups of selected candidates in Bangladesh. Later they will spread their knowledge to other interested families.
Taking into account the importance and position of Iran as upper middle income country, Slovenia concentrates on activities and cooperation with Iran that I already described, including ”training the trainers”.
In Slovenia, a new concept has been formed entitled as urban beekeeping which seeks to supply the needed honey for the consumers with the support of banks. Can this project be localized in Iranian cities?
Slovenians are a genuine beekeeping nation, as a relatively significant number of its residents are engaged in this activity, including in urban areas.
For example, the beekeeping tradition in our capital Ljubljana and its outskirts goes back to the time of first prehistoric settlements. As many as 3% of all Slovenian beekeepers with over 4.500 beehives are active in the area of the City of Ljubljana. Urban beekeeping is now flourishing in Ljubljana with the culture and congress centre Cankarjev dom as a pioneer leading the way. Honey produced in the area of the City of Ljubljana is of very high quality. In addition to beekeepers, the City of Ljubljana also takes care of bees by planting perennials with many honey plants among them.
In Ljubljana, the Bee Path was created to include all of the above mentioned topics and a lot of other content. It was designed in October 2015 and is uniting 35 members from educational and cultural institutions, from health-care centres to economic entities and, of course, beekeepers and beekeeping societies. It is not just a path, it is a movement of like‑minded people caring for the well‑being of bees in the city with very diverse activities. Within the scope of the Beekeeping Tourism Day Ljubljana received the recognition Most Bee-Friendly Municipality 2017.
Most of Slovenia’s demanded honey is imported from Germany, Austria and Chile. Why doesn’t it supply its shortage of honey from Iran?
Slovenia is interested in cooperation with Iran in the area of agriculture, including beekeeping. Both countries presented interest to conclude Memorandum of Understanding between our respective ministries of agriculture. We requested Iranian side to inform us about requirements for trade in this area. I am confident that in coming period we will explore the possibilities of trade with honey as well.
What cooperation is there between the two countries to develop organic plants and herbs?
As I already mentioned, the cooperation between our two countries in agriculture, including in organic plants and herbs, is very promising. I believe that both sides will explore all possibilities for further development of cooperation in this filed.