On February 8, Stéphane Le Foll, French Minister for Agriculture, Food Industry, and Forestry, announced the launch of the sustainable development plan for the beekeeping sector. The three-year comprehensive program, which has a budget of 40 million euros, aims to expand the French beekeeping sector and address bees’ health issues. Bees are essential for pollination and play a major role in agriculture and environmental services: 80 percent of crops are pollinated by insects, of which 85 percent are by bees.
Key figures :
Currently, there are 70,000 beekeepers in France, with 1,300,000 hives producing 18,500 metric tons of honey each year. In 2010, the French beekeeping sector’s estimated worth was 133.5 million euros.
There are three categories of beekeepers:
- The majority of beekeepers (91 percent) own between one and 30 hives, and produce small amounts of honey.
- Five percent maintain between 31 and 150 hives, but have another job.
- Four percent are professional beekeepers, managing more than 150 hives. Professional beekeepers are responsible for two thirds of French honey production.
Honey is a farm product, sold directly to the consumer about 50 percent of the time, and organic honey represents five percent of French production.
The beekeeping sector is struggling, in France and at the European level.
Over the past few years, honey production and the number of beekeepers and hives have steadily declined. Between 2004 and 2010, there was a:
- 40 percent decrease in beekeepers
- 20 percent decrease in hires
- 28 percent decrease in honey production
In the past 20 years, bees’ mortality rates have increased, sometimes reaching 30 percent (the average mortality rate is 10 percent). The mortality rate has a variety of causes, including chemicals, parasitic disease, and infection.
The sustainable development program has both environmental and economic objectives.
Key elements of the program are:
- To reduce mortality rates
One of the aims of the program is to reduce the use of pesticides,
Moreover, the bee population is affected by parasites and bacterial or viral infections. Specialized veterinarians will be designated at the national level to take care of these illnesses.
- To support research
It is necessary to have better knowledge about bees, bee colonies, the environment, and pollination. The program will promote research to model the impacts of some factors (e.g., chemical attacks, diseases, genetic changes, climate changes) on the development of the bee population.
- To structure the development of the French bee population
Increasing the number of bee colonies in France is essential for crops and orchard pollination, guaranteeing plant biodiversity. It is therefore necessary to increase the breeding of queen bees, as well as bee swarms, to renew bee populations without importing alien species. The government will create centers to examine genetic progress.
- To train young beekeepers
On the 40,000 metric tons of honey that the French consume annually, only 18,500 metric tons are produced in France. To fulfill the nation’s honey demand, it is necessary to create 1 million hives and 30,000 new beekeeping jobs. The program also includes new professional training within the framework of the French agricultural education system to allow 200-300 new beekeepers to enter the sector.
- The European level
Lastly, France is working with other European states to create a comprehensive program supporting the beekeeping sector in Europe.