History of apiculture in Greece has length more than 5000 years. Through such a long period of time, the whole world has significantly changed; civilizations were built and destroyed, human mindset has become disparate, finally all inventions have reconstructed our ways to do almost everything. Nowadays, most of us cannot imagine doing agriculture without machinery or living without electricity, but Greek beekeeping remained almost untouched.
The direct keepers of all ancient traditions are the local individual honey producers.
But who are they and why do they still follow old rules of production in 21st century?
The typical Greek beekeeper is the person who may have any education, age, income and so on. However, all of them have a lot in common; for instance, the same strong passion for customs and honey, respect towards consumers, and, unfortunately, various problems that happen every day in their lives.
Greek apiculture is very different than in other countries due to the uniqueness of the country’s geography. Mountainous areas, forests, hills and fields are rich with various botanic species and covered with thousands of hives. One single beekeeper usually has around 100 hives dispersed in different isolated apiaries which can have tens of kilometres distance between each other. Therefore, one of the main costs of the Greek honey is transportation expenses. According to our study of micro beekeepers in Elis region in western Peloponnese, fuel expenses can make up 20-25% of total costs. These numbers become much more frightening when we take a look on fuel prices: Greece is at the top of the list!
The second barrier for beekeepers’ prosperity is current economic situation in Europe and particularly in Greece. Continuous stagnation reduced buying power of mass customer and demand for home-made honey. Unfortunately, Greek honey is expensive, especially if it is produced at small scale, and even though small honey producers are telling that their customers are quite loyal, people are starting to buy more and more cheaper substitutes from supermarkets. Furthermore, the State is going to set up new taxes for beekeeping that can hurt a lot this sensitive industry, allowing only corporations to survive and possibly bringing negative effects
to beekeepers and to us too, since quality and authenticity will be in danger of disappearing.
As for the State, small beekeepers have mixed attitudes towards it. Some of them have only negative thoughts because of taxes, others are looking at the governmental institutions with hope, and the smallest group has already been given support, for example subsidies for transportation of hives. However, all of the apiculturists are open for any discussion and ready to suggest various win-win solutions.
The third biggest problem for small honey producers, according to our survey, is the old-fashioned way of doing business. Of course, we are not talking about production process, since traditional practices is one of the things that make products unique in Elis region, but other business activities.
For instance, very few producers, mainly the bigger companies, have their own website and a few sell honey B2B, while others sell directly, from mouth to mouth, to loyal customers who usually live nearby.
Accessibility to home-made honey is low for a common customer who has no way to find and buy it. Moreover, often people even do not know about the existence of available traditionally produced honey, since not many advertising efforts are done by honey producers. The point here is that small beekeepers cannot reach their potential clients, and this weakness is very crucial in time of high competition and big corporations.
Furthermore, during our interview process, beekeepers have mentioned difficulties with answering one of the key questions of any business: “What is your competitive advantage?” or in other words “Why should consumers buy from you?”
Most of them could outline the high standards of quality, some paid more attention to the organic origins of their products. However, these advantages can be applied to many other micro beekeepers, who also keep the same production traditions.
It is very essential for beekeepers to stand out with uniqueness and strong identity to gain more customers, especially in times of tough domestic competition and attempts of foreign producers to present their products as Greek ones. Cooperation between the government, educational institutions and apiculturists could be very helpful to increase efficiency and knowledge of important business practices.
Future: does it exist?
Nevertheless, the positive points also take place.
Environmental awareness is growing each day and people are ready to pay extra for organic and ethically produced goods, meanwhile some governmental institutions such as EU try to promote such products and support producers.
In addition, due to rich botanic diversity Greek honey has strong competitive advantage for its nutrition and healing characteristics, which are recognized in biological laboratories.
Also, some types of honey such as thyme, pine- and oak tree honey can be found mostly only in Greece, therefore it is possible to find the niche on the market without any competition.
Survival of small independent producers is an urgent need: the State would benefit from creating an attractive identity of local products, consumers would be satisfied to enjoy authentic and superior product, meanwhile beekeepers could save traditions and maintain their lifestyle.
It is obvious that it is feasible only by creating stable axes of collaboration.
However, it is still a big question when all these 3 parties –State, consumers and beekeepers- will manage to sit together around the same table and start changing the situation?
Erasmus Intern from Russia, Karelia University of Applied Sciences, Finland, Faculty: International Business,
in collaboration with “Dione” Local Development Centre in Ancient Olympia
Contact: · Vaso Charitopoulou, Head of “Dione”, email email@example.com
· Eleni Gerboura, Research Assistant, Mathematician, Kato Samiko-Elis region, email firstname.lastname@example.org