The challenge of BEE-ing in a pandemic

Women are the new face of beekeeping in rural Georgia, helping keep a steady family income during COVID-19

By providing training on modern beekeeping techniques and best practises, FAO and the European Union are supporting Georgian beekeepers throughout the COVID-19 crisis. ©Delegation of the European Union to Georgia


“For some reason, everyone thinks that a beekeeper should be a man, but that’s not the case here,” states Ketevan Bluishvili, a beekeeper from Matani village of the Kakheti region in eastern Georgia. In some regions, women are even explicitly banned from beekeeping, but in Ketevan’s family, beekeeping is a tradition. Both her parents had been beekeepers, and she took over the family production of honey in 2009.

“I can’t stress enough how important it is for us, rural women, to have our own source of income, especially with this pandemic,” Ketevan says.

With the COVID-19 crisis heavily affecting the economy in Georgia, decimating the tourism industry and sales of wine – a traditional product of Kakheti – many people of the region, who were more active in these sectors, have found themselves out of income. Families struggled to meet ends, and very often women became the main provider of income for their households.

As the COVID-19 pandemic hit rural areas, local farmers started feeling the losses. But Ketevan, leading by example and providing advice, inspired many women to start their own honey production to gain an additional source of income.

As a community leader in her village, Ketevan was approached by FAO to attend a Farmer Field School and receive training in modern beekeeping, deepen her knowledge and make the information on best practises available to other women from the area.

“I started with 30 beehives back in the day, now I have 120, and I plan to expand more,” explained Ketevan.

She also helped to select other local female producers to attend the training programme.  Backed with FAO’s support, training and equipment, some of the women even started production from the scratch.

 “We, local women, are very motivated to start our own businesses, and we are very eager to learn new practices from experienced trainers.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic, more women have become the sole provider of the family. Modern beekeeping is helping to provide a steady source of income. Left/Top: ©FAO/Tofik Babayev Right/Bottom: ©Delegation of the European Union to Georgia

“One of the biggest challenges for the beekeepers in Georgia is the lack of knowledge on the modern approaches to the production of honey and honeycomb. This affects the quality of the production as well as their ability to sell it,” noted Teimuraz Ghoghoberidze, the President of Georgian Beekeepers’ Association and trainer contracted by FAO. Teimuraz noted that among the challenges that beekeepers face are parasites and diseases affecting bees, lack of modern equipment as well as gaps in knowledge on how to brand and sell the products locally or for export.

Supporting rural development

Agriculture employs more than 40 percent of Georgia’s labour force and is a crucial sector for the country’s economic development. With this in mind, the European Union (EU) and FAO are working together under the European Neighbourhood Programme for Agriculture and Rural Development (ENPARD) III that, since 2013, supports rural communities and the agricultural sector in Georgia with the main goal of reducing rural poverty. Under ENPARD, FAO provides technical assistance to the government and access to knowledge and investment opportunities for individual farmers, cooperatives and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

So far, FAO has established more than 80 demonstration plots and 10 Farmer Field Schools, active in vegetable, dairy and honey production, in various regions of Georgia. More than 1 200 Georgian farmers, 25 percent of whom were female have received so far hands-on field training from FAO agronomists.

“Our priority now is to train more farmers, especially women, and consolidate the work we are doing teaching farmers through demonstration plots and Farmer Field Schools, handing over the responsibility of training to lead farmers so that they can train other fellow farmers. This way, and with FAO’s technical support and guidance, we create an enabling environment for farmers to produce more, produce better and in a more sustainable way,” explains Javier Sanz Alvarez, EU-FAO Programme Coordinator.

Ketevan, now, has already started to look forward, forming a local community network of female honey producers to cooperate under a single brand and take a bigger share of the market.

Pollinators increase the outputs of 87 of the 115 leading food crops worldwide. However, their role has been vastly underestimated, and pollinators, are under threat. ©FAO/Zinyange Auntony

Celebrating bees & beekeepers

On the 20 May, World Bee Day, we celebrate the contribution that bees and other pollinators make to food security. Pollinators, such as bees, birds and bats, contribute to 35 percent of the world’s total crop production, pollinating 87 of 115 leading food crops worldwide.

However, their role has been vastly underestimated, and bees, as well other pollinators, are under threat. Sustainable beekeeping, together with safeguarding wild pollinators, are vital for the food security and livelihoods of communities. In this time of the pandemic, FAO is helping communities regain their livelihoods, while also supporting local biodiversity and restoring ecosystems. Learn more about World Bee Day, how we can build back better for bees and how you can BEE involved!

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8. Decent work and economic growth, 15. Life on land