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Interview with Minister Jože Podgoršek on World Bee Day

Today is World Bee Day. We welcome you to read an Interview with minister Podgoršek on World Bee Day.

Minister in front of slovenian flag

Minister Podgoršek

We look forward to the fourth celebration of World Bee Day. On the initiative of the Slovenian Beekeepers’ Association, the Republic of Slovenia proposed that the United Nations Organisation proclaim 20 May as World Bee Day. The aim of the initiative is to draw the attention of the international public to the importance of bee conservation every year and remind the public that we all depend on bees and other pollinators. What would you like to stress on this year's World Bee Day? What is its motto?

World Bee Day offers the opportunity to think about beekeeping and wild pollinators every year. They are both good indicators of the preservation of our environment. We can be extremely proud in Slovenia to have a great environment for the development and existence of beekeeping. I dare say that environmental pollution is not a significant or major difficulty for the development of beekeeping in Slovenia. The topic of this year's World Bee Day is Bee engaged: Build Back Better for Bees. We aim to build foundations at the EU level to enable all Member States and other countries to establish programmes and measures that would facilitate the development of beekeeping. This is an important aspect for eliminating hunger and providing income in developing countries since it would provide people with the means of subsistence and enable them to ensure food security and the income for their families.

How does the celebration of World Bee Day help to raise public awareness of the importance of bees and other pollinators? Do you consider that Slovenia's initiative was successful in raising awareness of the international public in the area?

Every one of us can contribute to the preservation of our environment. We can, for example, avoid using plant protection products that are harmful for bees and other pollinators in our gardens and back yards. When we take care of biodiversity, for example by building hedgerows and insect hotels, we also ensure a favourable and comfortable environment for natural pollinators. This strengthens their contribution to food security, taking into account that almost 80% of the crops in the food supply chain depend on pollination. Individuals can only contribute one piece of the puzzle. However, if we join forces, we can achieve much more. I believe that, with tenacity, we are becoming better and better in raising awareness of people in Slovenia. World Bee Day is a good promotional opportunity for Slovenia, including for the promotion of Slovenian honey and beekeeping.

I dare say that we have spent four very successful and fruitful years in celebrating World Bee Day. We have also left a mark in the international community. I would like to take this opportunity to thank our diplomatic or consular representations for considering World Bee Day as one the central events of the Republic of Slovenia in international diplomacy. They have always stressed the importance of World Bee Day and other events for the promotion of local food, including the traditional Slovenian breakfast. Slovenia is proud to be an initiator of World Bee Day. The initiative is always associated with Slovenia across the world.

Slovenia has put a lot of effort in developing and promoting beekeeping in recent years. What kind of progress has been made?

Slovenian beekeepers are known for producing exceptional beekeeping equipment. We are very innovative in developing the equipment for beekeeping and monitoring beekeeping. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food has received one of the innovations as a protocol gift from the Slovenian Beekeepers' Association. The gift consists of an apiary, which was made in Slovenia, with the equipment for daily monitoring of key parameters in the apiary and its surroundings. It can monitor the temperature, wind and sun. We can also monitor the activities of bees on camera and weight the collected honey with an in-built scale.

One of the most important international activities will be the awarding of the Golden Bee Award. Could you tell us more about the award?

Golden Bee Award can be described as a mini-Nobel prize in beekeeping. Since it is an international award, we would like to receive submissions and carry out projects from across the globe. The award should be handed out to a person or an institution that, in the past year, did the most for the protection, visibility and promotion of bees and wild pollinators or for research in beekeeping. The three topics will alternate each year. We hope that Golden Bee Award will promote development and research projects in these areas. The President of the Republic of Slovenia will normally present the award on World Bee Day. The winner will receive a financial award and an attractive sculpture that will be revealed on 20 May. The first award might already be awarded in the second half of December. The award is another great opportunity for promoting Slovenia. 

How does Slovenia facilitate and support beekeeping?

We carry out numerous activities at the national and international level. World Bee Day is one of the main elements. We also support Slovenian beekeeping with various measures, including with the resources of the Common Agricultural Policy. We established the Beekeeping Academy of Slovenia in 2018, aiming to transfer our knowledge to less developed countries. The interministerial working group, which is led by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food, has prepared the Action plan of the Republic of Slovenia on the World Bee Day project by 2022. Slovenia and its activities can be an example for many countries, demonstrating how to protect the environment in order to protect bees and wild pollinators. 

Despite being small, Slovenia takes great care to make itself herd. In recent discussions, we have stressed that the Republic of Slovenia considers the current protection of bees the only acceptable level of protection, taking into account the natural variability of bee colonies. Slovenia would not accept an increase in the value of natural variability of bees in the Guidance on the risk assessment of plant protection products on bees.

We continue to advocate bee protection in the use of plant protection products by implementing measures in the fields of agriculture, industry and transport. They can influence our environment and either improve or worsen the situation for the development of beekeeping. We are increasingly becoming a vocal and visible stakeholder at the EU level. We were also one of the first countries to ban neonicotinoids. A partial ban was introduced in 2008 and a total ban in 2011. The EU only introduced the ban in 2018. We have proven that small countries such as Slovenia can take important steps for protecting the environment and bees.

The Beekeeping Academy of Slovenia was also established. Is this an opportunity for Slovenia to familiarise other countries with excellent beekeeping practices and contribute to sharing the knowledge and raising awareness?

The aim of the Beekeeping Academy of Slovenia is to spread knowledge on beekeeping to areas where they lack such knowledge, in particular to developing countries. This is one of the key tasks of the Beekeeping Academy. The Academy also helps us to promote Slovenia as a beekeeping country. By acquiring additional knowledge, people in these countries undoubtedly improve their employment opportunities and social situation. The Academy promotes the importance of bees and wild pollinators through its activities, stressing that pollinators are one of the key factors for ensuring food security in all countries.  

What will be the role of beekeeping in the EU, in particular in the new Common Agricultural Policy?

It will play a major role. The resources for beekeeping (i.e. the sectoral intervention) have increased from EUR 380 000 to EUR 650 000 per year. We will also help beekeeping and wild pollinators with nature conservation. New EU strategies and resolutions, such as the climate deal, the Farm to Fork Strategy and the EU Biodiversity Strategy, encourage all Member States to manage natural resources in a significantly more sustainable way. This includes the agricultural sector. Sustainable management means a lower use of plant protection products, fertilizers and antibiotics, and a higher share of organic production. As part of the tasks that Slovenia will have to perform in the framework of the strategic plan, we will adopt interventions to help beekeeping. We will also help with sectoral interventions in forestry, forest management and forest protection to support the economic part of beekeeping. Forests are essential for honey flow since most honey is collected in forests.  

We would like to make a big step forward in labelling the origin of honey blends during the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU. Our aim is to state the country of origin of honey blends, instead of only indicating whether the product was "produced in the EU" or "outside the EU". I had the opportunity to put forward this initiative at the EU Agriculture Council in January 2020, acting at the time as State Secretary. I am very proud that Member States have strongly supported the initiative. As a result, the Commission had to accept the initiative that it now addresses according to its schedule and its authorities. We would like to achieve important progress with the initiative during our Presidency. We will certainly not be able to reach the final solution, but we would like to make important progress.

How do you view the development of bee tourism in Slovenia?

This is a great opportunity for Slovenian beekeepers. Apitourism is increasingly developing as an individual form of tourism, which has an exceptional added value for Slovenian tourism. Prior to the Covid-19 epidemic, we had been used to the classical mass tourism. Due to the pandemic, we are now turning towards different forms of tourism. Destinations offering tourists exceptional individual experiences will be at the forefront this year. Apitherapy can be beneficial to our health. Since Slovenian beekeeping is highly developed, tourists can easily find beekeepers where they can buy local beekeeping products and enjoy the pure nature, which is necessary for beekeeping.

Another novelty in Slovenia is the professional standard for apitherapists. Can you tell us more about it?

The professional standard for apitherapists enables the professionals to carry out apitherapy in apiaries. This is an important added value for Slovenian tourism and healthy lifestyle. Together with the Beekeepers' Association, we have fought for many years to establish this professional standard. I am convinced that it will help us to train professionals to carry out apitherapies in apiaries, enrich the range of tourism products and services and present Slovenia as the global destination for bee tourism.