bees, honey and other sticky subjects

Monday, April 05, 2004

Beehive smuggling brings Kurdish beekeeping back from the brink

Beekeeping by Kurds in Northern Iraq suffered severe setbacks after the the Baathist campaigns of 1976 and 1988 reports the UN. Farmers had done their best to start up again, but after Saddam's onslaught in 1991, with the Kurdish region on the brink of starvation, they had more pressing concerns.

In the Dahuk area, a small American non-governmental organisation, Concern4Kids (C4K), whose country director Robert Anderson had been brought up on a hive-filled farm in Georgia, USA, tried to help rebuild the industry. Anderson immediately sensed the income-generating possibilities in honey production. He had heard of the concept of “pass on the gift”, where farmers give other families a small percentage of lambs or calves born to their stock. He thought the same would be very successful with stocks of bees.
C4K began by importing queens from Europe, but the going was painfully slow. Then, one day in 1993, the news broke that a Turkish Kurdish smuggler had come to town.

“The man had a mule with two hives full of bees slung over the saddle-bags,” remembers Anderson. “He was very poor, and wanted me to buy them for US $15. We offered a lot more.”

The smuggler then said he had 48 more hives back home in Turkey. Two by two, he brought them all, braving minefields along the border.

... C4K was forced to leave Dahuk for a year in 1996 when Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani invited the Iraqi army in to fight off forces from the rival Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. They returned to find many of their hives had been stolen and sold by a former local employee. Despite such setbacks, honey production is once again widespread throughout the region.
Now honey seems to be making an important contribution to the economy and thoughts are turning to exports to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

(Regular readers will spot the parallels of parts of this story with Palestine today.)


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