Azerbaijan's sweetest value chain


In analyzing Azerbaijan's honey industry, an FAO economist sees an opportunity for sweet rewards for local producers.

Azerbaijan honey is delicious and in demand. The sector is growing and becoming more technically sophisticated. Yet there is room for improvement. “For me, the goal is always to improve returns to the farmer," FAO economist and value chain expert John O’Connell says.

TRADITIONAL SECTOR, NATURAL ADVANTAGES
For centuries, rural people in Azerbaijan have produced honey. The country's mountainous regions allow for the production of high-quality, natural, mountain flora honey that has a high market value. Native Caucasian bees, naturally resilient to the environment and to parasites, make it possible to achieve high productivity rates.

Today there are 240 000 registered hives in Azerbaijan. The national government would like to see that number rise to 600 000 hives, with annual production of 900 tonnes of honey.

CAPITALIZING ON STRENGTHS
FAO economist and value chain expert John O'Connell has looked closely at Azerbaijan's honey sector, assessing its strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for future growth. In value chain analysis, O'Connell says, "we look at every step 'from farm to fork.' We look for links in the chain that are missing or weak. We look at processing, transport, infrastructure such as roads and electricity, laws and regulations, access to finance, and availability of inputs."

Left: The beehives at this farm in the village of Lekit in Azerbaijan's Gakh district are painted in bright colours to enhance their appeal to bees. There are 240 000 registered hives in Azerbaijan. The national government would like to see that number rise to 600 000. Right: A vendor with honey, jam and other products for sale at a village market stall in Azerbaijan.

NEW METHODS TAKE HOLD
At first glance, this honey production farm in the village of Lekit, in Azerbaijan's Gakh district, uses traditional methods. Each morning, employees in protective gear conduct an inspection of the hives. Beehives are painted in a rainbow of colours to enhance their appeal to bees.

LENDING A HAND TO MOTHER NATURE
In a workshop nearby, a technician builds new wooden hives and others produce slabs of man-made beeswax honeycomb. When placed inside a hive, the manufactured honeycomb accelerates development of the hive's interior structure. 

Left: Slabs of man-made beeswax honeycomb. When placed inside a hive, the manufactured honeycomb accelerates development of the hive's interior structure. Right: Golden honey produced in Azerbaijan.

CAUCASIAN QUEEN BEES
Azerbaijan honey producers are increasingly knowledgeable, adopting new methods and technologies. To improve productivity and preserve genetic material, in 2015 the Apiculture Centre of the Animal Husbandry Research Institute under the State Agrarian Research and Information Centre in Ganja started to breed Caucasian queen bees. Researchers made an expedition to the Caucasus Mountains to collect Caucasian queens.

FAO provided technical assistance, along with queen breeding boxes and artificial insemination laboratory equipment. In the final phase of the project, Turkish experts trained the Centre's staff in artificial insemination techniques. FAO continues to advise on sustainable solutions for honey production, O’Connell said.


SWEET REWARDS
Azerbaijan honey is delicious and in demand. The sector is growing and becoming more technically sophisticated. Yet there is room for improvement, O'Connell found. He recommends more cooperation between beekeepers and the national Beekeepers' Association, introduction of honey grades and standards, and establishment of branding to enhance the marketing potential of Azerbaijan honey and increase revenues for producers. Future FAO assistance will focus on market access for the country’s beekeepers, along with improved export opportunities.

"Today we talk about sustainable food systems," O'Connell says. "Essentially it's a value chain approach that also includes socio-cultural issues such as gender, the environment, and more. For me, the goal is always to improve returns to the farmer."

Learn more:
FAO's work in Europe and Central Asia

All photos:
©FAO/Tofik Babayev.