Bee products: providing nutrition and generating income - Honeybees, beekeeping and bee products in our daily lives
Honeybees provide a wide range of benefits to humans from honey, other bee products, pollination of food crops and ecological services. Beekeeping is practiced around the world, and can provide a valuable source of income to people in developing regions with relatively little investment.
The best known primary products of beekeeping are honey and wax, but pollen, propolis, royal jelly, venom, queens, bees and their larvae are also marketable primary bee products. Most of these products can be consumed as they are produced by the bees. There are additional uses where bee products are an ingredient of another product. Due to the quality and sometimes almost mystical reputation and characteristics of bee products, the addition to other products usually enhances the perceived value or quality of these secondary products. This can increase the profitability of many beekeeping operations.
The main bee products that are used for human consumption and use are:
- Honey - Honey bees suck the nectar from flowers and store it in a stomach-like organ called a honey crop. When the bee returns to the colony, another bee takes the nectar and spreads it over the wax honey comb to help water evaporate. The second bee also adds and enzyme called invertase to help break down the sugar molecules. Once it becomes thick it is sealed in a cell with a wax cap.
- Pollen - Pollen grains are small, male reproduction units (gametophytes) formed in the anthers of the higher flowering plants.
- Propolis - Propolis, or bee glue, is a mixture of beeswax and resins collected from leaf bugs and twigs. It is used to line nest cavities and brood combs, seal cracks and reduce the size of the hive entrance. Propolis has antibacterial and antifungal properties.
- Royal jelly - Royal jelly is a protein rich substance that is fed to larvae. More is given to the queen larva, causing her to grow larger than the other bees. It is made from digested pollen and honey and contains sugars, fats, amino acids, vitamins, minerals and proteins.
- Venom -Venom used in the bee sting is made up of a complex mixture of proteins. Recent research suggests that venom may have benefits to humans.
This notwithstanding apiculture faces a number of challenges that can impact on the health and survival of the colony. The main threats come from loss of habitat, pathogens, agro-chemicals, invasive species and climate change. Apiculture also faces challenges from competing with cheaper alternative ingredients, policy and legal support to beekeeping, to technical constraints/knowledge of beekeeping practice.
Some questions to help guide the discussion:
- What are the dietary and nutritional benefits known in your community for bee products?
- Is honey affordable and available in your community all year round?
- What are the prospects for beekeeping in the future? Beekeeping, poverty alleviation and food security: where are we headed?
- With diseases, pests, habitat loss, colony collapse and climatic changes increasingly affecting apiculture around the world, what can we do to create sustainable conditions for agriculture and apiculture to coexist and to benefit from each other?
We are looking forward to reading your responses. Thank you for your time and for sharing your knowledge and expertise!
James Edge, Communications specialist
FAO's TECA Beekeeping Exchange Group