Thirty young men and women will begin a period of apprenticeship this month under the Ministry of Agriculture’s $3.5 million Beekeeping Apprenticeship Programme, geared at providing employment opportunities for those who have an interest in the industry.
Hugh Smith, Senior Plant Protection Officer in the Apiculture Unit of the Ministry, informs JIS News that the first phase of the programme should have accommodated 20 participants, but has to be increased to 30 to facilitate the number of applications received.
He points out that 94 applications were received from persons in 13 parishes, with Trelawny being the only parish without applicants. “There were no applications from Trelawny and this could have been because of how the bee keeper aspect is distributed in that parish,” he says.
The number of apprentices chosen is based on the number of bee farmers needed to match these trainees, according to Mr. Smith. “To make sure that we have the correct situation for selection, we must have a farmer to match the apprentice with, so we have also selected persons to use for this training programme,” he explains.
“We anticipated that we would have a lot of persons coming in .some of the people who came were people who were above the requirements, some of them were employed, so we had to focus some of these people on the extension staff and use the extension staff as another training area, instead of attaching these persons to the apprenticeship programme,” he added.
Each apprentice will receive a starting stock of $71,000 worth of beehives as well as a weekly stipend of $1,250. The apprentices will not be required to pay back any of this money, as their contribution is to ensure they make money out of their operation.
Mr. Smith explains that the $71,000 grant of beehives is usually provided at the end of the training programme, while equipment and clothing are usually provided at the start. Some of the applicants, he points out, have enough cash to start their own beekeeping operation and as such, are not dependent on what is allotted for this programme.
“For those people, what we opt to do is to attach them with the extension staff so they can get started immediately, instead of waiting for this apprenticeship programme,” he says. Mr. Smith points out that come August 31, all apprentices will be invited to the offices at Bodles in St. Catherine, where they will be introduced to some of the rules and the issues they will face in the fields as well as all other details of the programme. They will also be given a programme schedule for their period of apprenticeship and will be informed as to the basic things to be used as guidelines in the field.
These apprentices, he further explains, will be dispatched to the training areas or host farmers, and over the period of training they will also be invited to inhouse training. “These will be scheduled to have more classroom as well as field situations, where they will be given more detailed information as to the whole beekeeping operation, from management, pest control right to being able to deal with their financial situation in beekeeping,” he notes.
An additional 10 persons will be selected soon from the initial applicants, for the second phase of the programme, which is slated to commence six months from now. At the end of the apprenticeship programme, Mr. Smith says there will be follow-up training programme for all trainees.
Two main benefits of the apprenticeship programme to the bee industry will be labour as well as new players to the sector. “It has also provided new bee keepers, who themselves have gone into beekeeping as a living, and they have been able now to supply their family with the financial backing. So for this apprenticeship group, the programme is to start them off and show them the details of beekeeping and how they can make money,” he says.
For this batch, Mr. Smith says many of the applicants are women with as much as 70 per cent female applicants from some parishes. “One of the reasons for this is our selection criteria, in that men over a certain age were not necessarily accepted in the programme. Some came in but we offered the facility mainly to women of all ages, seeing that women play a great role in family development,” he notes, adding that some 60 per cent of the applicants are women.
The programme, which was originally slated to last three years, will now be reduced to two, as the number of participants in the first batch has been significantly increased.
Mrs. Smith says that bee farmers are willing to facilitate this programmme, as “over the years, based on the experience with these farmers, they have always welcomed new entrants to the industry, people who they can count on, especially when they are up in age, people who can assist them in their beekeeping operation, because some of these farmers are very old and they have to depend on experienced people or people who are well trained”.
The most applications, he notes, came from St. Thomas with 21, followed by St. Catherine with 19 and St. Mary with 13.
Those apprentices who will not be attached to host farmers, Mr. Smith says, will be attached to senior officers in the research unit to assist in developing certain apiaries islandwide to assist farmers in the hurricane relief programme.