Albanian beekeepers cautious over draft law to align with EU acquis

Members of Isufi family, a family of beekeepers in northern village of Dukagjin, Albania. The profit of beekeeping including honey, bee pollen and royal jelly give the family a profit of some 2,000 euros per year. EPA/ARMANDO BABANI

Albania’s beekeeping sector will be regulated as the government has proposed the final draft of a new law that would impact those with just one hive in an effort to align with the EU acquis. But not all beekeepers are buzzing over the news.

Currently, beekeeping is not regulated by law, and beekeepers are free to keep as many hives as they want. The Ministry of Agriculture, however, has drafted the law in an attempt to increase the protection of bees as their existence comes under increasing threat, not just in Albania but around the world.

“The purpose of the draft act is to recognise beekeeping as an activity of vital, national interest, useful for the preservation of the natural environment, ecosystem, and agriculture in general, which aims to guarantee national pollination and biodiversity of the bee species, with special reference to the protection of the bee breed apis mellifera carnica and typical indigenous bee populations,” the Ministry states.

In particular, it will determine rules for the production, registration, transport, reproduction, labelling, processing, and storing of bee-derived products, including honey, royal jelly, and propolis.

Any individual or company operating even one hive will be required to register it with the authorities by 30 April each year. Furthermore, it lays down specifics regarding the location of hives, over 10 metres from the road and five metres from public or private property boundaries.

Hives can either be static or mobile, but any beekeeper wishing to move hives must notify the authorities six days before the intended date. Beekeepers will have to submit a veterinary certificate declaring the bees are in good health and confirming necessary medical measures taken before the move.

The authorities will then decide whether the migration of the bee park can take place or not.

Under the new potential rules, the draft states that European bees such as apis mellifera and local subspecies such as apis mellifera carnica, apis mellifera ligustica, apis mellifera sicula, and apis mellifera cecropia, amongst others, should be used.

Additionally, all beekeepers should have basic knowledge in the sector and should take all appropriate measures laid down in the law to protect both bees and consumers.

Other articles of the proposed law include what could happen if beekeepers flout the law or do not declare their activity to the government, among other infractions. In addition, it provides instruction on how to store and label honey products.

Lastly, the government has foreseen several provisions to support the sector’s growth. Albania is known locally for having excellent honey due to favourable conditions, climate, and flora.

The government pledges to promote and protect the development of Albanian products, create research programmes, incentivise young people to take up beekeeping as a profession and support beekeepers in rural areas.

One local beekeeper told Exit that he cautiously welcomes the news.

“It is good to have some regulation in the industry, particularly if we want to sell products to a wider market. I am just worried about those who may struggle to meet the financial demands of compliance,” he explained.

But another, with his hives near the Greek border, said the government have tried to simplify an issue that is not so straightforward.

“We will have to raise the price and scale down quantity since we will need more sales to cover costs. For me, it is better to stay informal and keep clients happy and have a more quality product until there are more solid financial bases in place,” he said.

He continued that support from the government would be key in bringing small-time producers to rural villages, in line with the ambitious plans.

“Those elderly beekeepers selling honey by the road in plastic bottles- they could end up without their only source of income. They cannot afford to invest and take risks- we are living in a hard crisis,” he said.

In 2020, Albania experienced its best honey harvesting year on record. Beekeepers in the Morava region of the country told the media they had never seen a season like it in the last 50 years.

The Morava area produces tens of tonnes of honey every year, with varieties including white clover, chestnut, wild thyme, and rapeseed.

While several companies produce honey on an industrial scale for domestic consumption, the vast majority is produced informally. Honey is purchased from family members, friends of friends, and street and roadside vendors. It typically comes in reused glass jars or plastic bottles that once held Pepsi or water.

This mentality will be hard to change, and government support and investment will be crucial for producers.

The authorities have also said that the law’s drafting has been done in line with European Union law. While the law is expected to pass in the coming weeks, further bylaws will need to be introduced, and there will be a two-year grace period before full implementation.

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