FAO Liaison Office in New York

Interview with Ambassador Bavdaž Kuret


For today's interview, we speak to Darja Bavdaž Kuret, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Republic of Slovenia to the United Nations.

Slovenia is known as a nation of beekeepers. How does honey farming factor in the country’s economy and trade ties with the rest of the world?

Beekeeping in Slovenia is part of a living tradition, among every thousand citizens of Slovenia four people are beekeepers (around 10.000 altogether), which is unique in the world. Slovenia has an over 140-year-old national beekeepers’ association and beekeeping for Slovenians is so much more than just honey farming. We could even say that Slovenians are emotionally attached to bees. The bee can be spotted as a symbol of industriousness above the doorways of banks and museums, and even on a special two-euro coin issued by the country's central bank to mark the first World Bee Day in 2018.

After the World Bee Day proclamation, Slovenia took one step further and founded the Beekeeping Academy of Slovenia as the organizational unit of the Agricultural Institute of Slovenia. The Beekeeping Academy of Slovenia organizes informal education courses in the field of beekeeping. In this way, we want to become the leading country in the field of beekeeping knowledge and innovation development and thus a net exporter of new beekeeping skills, practices and technological solutions. The Academy presents an opportunity for Slovene and foreign experts from different branches to work together in a joint mission to spread professional expertise on bees and beekeeping in Slovenia, and to make practical use of this broader network of knowledge. The major goal is to help develop beekeepers with broad practical knowledge, adhering to the fundamental value of living in harmony with nature, and with a global overview of apiculture, who will proudly demonstrate the knowledge they have gained at the Beekeeping Academy of Slovenia.

Slovenian beekeepers have enhanced the beekeeping tradition with api-tourism. With slogan “Feel Green, Active and Healthy Slovenia!” we were the world’s first green country by Green Destinations’ international standards and a proud recipient of the National Geographic World Legacy (Destination Leadership) Award.

We are also one of the first in the world to offer innovative and certified forms of api-tourism. Apitourism (from the Latin apis which means bee) gives a fresh approach to eco conscious travel. It gives insight into the fascinating world of bees, while at the same time presenting the country’s cultural heritage and natural beauty. It is about authentic travel which enriches one’s life and strengthens one’s connection with nature, culture and society.

After years of lobbying by Slovenia and partners, in 2017 the United Nations General Assembly unanimously proclaimed 20 May as World Bee Day. How has the observance impressed on bee conservation so far?

May 20 was chosen as the date for World Bee Day as a birthday of Anton Janša who is considered to be the first teacher of modern beekeeping at the Habsburg court in Vienna and one of the pioneers of apiculture on a global scale. Jansa laid the foundations of beekeeping that are still in force today, despite technological advances.

World Bee Day has for sure improved the recognition of the importance of bees and beekeeping, especially in Slovenia. Slovenia has become a synonym for good organization of beekeeping throughout the world. Many beekeepers from all over the planet wish to acquire our beekeeping knowledge and top beekeeping supplies, Slovenian quality hive products are in demand, interest in our Carniolan honey bee has increased, beekeepers from around the world are asking where Slovenia is, how can they come for a visit, and where Slovenian hives can be acquired, there is demand for apiary building plans etc.

From 2007 to 2017, Slovenia saw a 57% increase in beehive numbers. Slovenia is also the only European Union Member State to have protected its native bee, the Carniolan bee (Apis mellifera carnica). The Carniolan bee is now the second most common honeybee in the world, famed for its docility, hard work, humility and excellent sense of orientation.

In 2011, Slovenia was one of the first EU countries to prohibit the use of certain pesticides harmful to bees in its territory. Immediately after the ban, beekeepers reported fewer bee deaths. Slovenia took its own experience of banning neonicotinoids to the European Commission and petitioned for ban on pesticides across all EU countries. By 2013, the EU had placed a moratorium on three types of neonicotinoids pesticides—clothianidin, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam—and prohibited its use in crops pollinated by honeybees. In 2018, the EU further expanded the ban to all field crops, amid growing evidence that neonicotinoids were causing bee colonies to collapse.

2020 was supposed to be a super-year for nature and biodiversity, until the COVID-19 upended plans and led to the postponement of events like COP26. What can be done in the post-pandemic era to protect bee colonies against climate change, and safeguard the livelihoods of those who process and trade honey?

The greatest contribution of bees and other pollinators is the pollination of nearly three quarters of the plants that produce 90% of the world’s food. A third of the world’s food production depends on bees, i.e. every third spoonful of food depends on pollination. Over the past 50 years, the amount of crops that depend on pollinators (i.e. fruit, vegetables, seeds, nuts and oilseeds) has tripled. Bees play an important role in relation to the scope of agricultural production. Effective pollination increases the amount of agricultural produce, improves their quality and enhances plants’ resistance to pests.

Despite its importance, pollination as a factor in food production and food security has been poorly understood and under-appreciated, partially because pollination has always been provided by nature at no ‘explicit cost’.  As farm fields have become larger, and the use of agricultural chemicals that impact beneficial insects such as pollinators along with plant pests has increased, pollination services are showing declining trends in many parts of the world.

Bees are also vital for the preservation of ecological balance and biodiversity in nature. By pollination, they protect and maintain ecosystems as well as animal and plant species, and contribute to genetic and biotic diversity.

Bees also act as indicators of the state of the environment. Their presence, absence or quantity tells us when something is happening with the environment and that appropriate action is needed. By observing the development and health of bees, it is possible to ascertain changes in the environment and implement the necessary precautionary measures in time.

Among main reasons for the mortality of bees are diseases infections, mass use of products intended to protect plants in modern farming, new pests, urbanization and shrinking of the agricultural space and climate change.

In order to realize the 2050 Vision for Biodiversity “Living in harmony with nature”, we truly must act in the direction of preserving the biodiversity. The Leaders' Summit on Biodiversity to be held this September in the framework of the High Level Week of the UN General Assembly will be an opportunity to demonstrate the ambition for accelerating action on biodiversity for sustainable development. Loss of pollinators in this framework is an important biodiversity issue.

Even if Slovenia counts among the countries with extremely diverse and relatively well preserved nature, concern for preserving biodiversity is evident in the increased number of protected areas. Protected areas comprise 11% of the entire territory in addition the Decree on Special Protection Areas (Natura 2000 Areas) comprises 36% of Slovenia’s territory. In areas of high natural value, agriculture can ensure the appropriate biodiversity levels are maintained, provided the right technological solutions are employed. Extensive agriculture helps preserve the diversity of species and habitats.

When it comes to achieving sustainable development and safeguarding the nature, another concept to bear in mind is circular economy. Our overall goal is to position Slovenia as a leader in harnessing the power of circularity to decarbonise its economy, transform communities and preserve the natural environment.

Furthermore, Slovenia recently joined the joint initiative of 16 EU Member States for greening the economy after the COVID-19 pandemic. The initiative puts the European Green Deal (Green Deal) at the heart of the European economic recovery. There is a growing consensus within the EU and globally that post-COVID-19 recovery should be based on "rebuilding better", and not restoring efforts focused on returning to a pre-crisis status quo. This is the moment to introduce ambitious climate mitigation and adaptation measures in the recovery policies.

More information on the 2020 World Bee Day, including a statement by the Green Group, is available here