At the University of O’Higgins they already add beekeeping to the mandatory Veterinary Medicine mesh
- “In the universities that teach Veterinary Medicine, they teach about different types of production, whether it be pigs, beef or dairy cattle, and poultry, but beekeeping is left aside,” he says.
With annual exports of around US$12,000,000 before the pandemic, 10,000 farms and 454,000 hives according to updated data from Odepa, Chilean beekeeping is a relevant productive activity, not only for honey and its by-products, but also for the key role played by pollination services for food production and preserving biodiversity.
Are there training instances and a critical mass of professionals in the country according to the agri-food importance of this activity?
Andrea Müller, director of the project “Generation of social capital between beekeepers and the University of O’Higgins to improve the sanitary and epidemiological status of hives in the O’Higgins Region”, considers that Chile lacks instances of education and professionalization of beekeeping. “There are only courses and most of them are elective for university students. In the universities that offer careers such as Veterinary Medicine, for example, beekeeping is offered as an elective that is not in the curriculum in a compulsory way, ”she points out.
The Department of Forestry and Nature Conservation of the University of Chile, for example, offers the elective course “Forest Beekeeping”, whose objective, as stated on the university website, “is to provide its participants with theoretical knowledge in competences to know the basic characteristics for the sustainable management of beekeeping from the native vegetation of the country”. The course, they add, is taught “considering the need to improve beekeeping management in Chile.”
The University of O’Higgins wants to go one step further and integrate the subject into its curriculum in a compulsory way. “We want it to be inserted in the production courses that are taught in the mesh, because in the universities the production of pigs, beef or dairy cattle and poultry is seen in more detail, but beekeeping does not appear and should be present ”, says Dr. Müller.
“Especially in veterinary medicine, which, on the one hand, has a large part of zootechnics related to the different types of production and, on the other, applies to the prevention and control of diseases, in addition to having an important component in the safety of food of animal origin and preserve the biodiversity of ecosystems”, adds the director of the project that is financed with funds from the Regional Government of O’Higgins.
In postgraduate training, the situation is also precarious. “Isolated courses can be found, but I have not been able to find a diploma in beekeeping taught by a university. Normally they are given by other types of institutions, or by the same beekeepers who have more experience in the field”, explains Müller.
Another thing happens in exporting powers such as New Zealand, which with shipments of US$237 million, was the first exporter in the world in value in 2019. On the oceanic island, specializations are taught in technological institutes, such as the Universal College of Learning (Ucol ), an institution founded in 1896 dependent on the New Zealand State. It is a polytechnic that even offers foreign students the certificate in sustainable beekeeping.
The lack of academic instances of training results in the scarcity of professionals in the area. “They are insufficient and it is necessary to form a mass, both of veterinarians and agronomists. The first to see diseases, epidemiology and comprehensive beekeeping health management and the second to analyze pollination, which is responsible for 2/3 of the fruits and vegetables that man consumes”, explains Dr. Müller.
Research is also scarce, “It only occurs through the efforts of individual researchers or international organizations such as Fraunhofer, but the latter unfortunately is no longer in Chile. It is very important to investigate different aspects of beekeeping, for example, the different pathogens that affect the health of hives, the importance of their feeding, genetic and epidemiological aspects, among others”, he points out.
In New Zealand, on the other hand, beekeeping research was key in the positioning that the oceanic country has had as an exporter of specialty honey in recent years. The island’s government backed the UMF seal, based on research indicating that Manuka honey – the star of its exports – has high concentrations of methylglyoxal, a component that improves wounds, as well as antioxidants and minerals.
In this context, it is urgent that universities reconsider the way they approach beekeeping, says Müller. “That is exactly what we are doing at the UOH, we want to professionalize the beekeeping industry,” he says.