Bee farmers, who qualify under the Beekeeping Revolving Loan Programme, will begin receiving the funds as early as the next two weeks.
Under the programme, established bee farmers will receive a maximum of about $250,000 to commercialize their operations, which will include increasing beehives and purchasing additional equipment in a bid to boost honey production.
The money will provide for the purchase of bees and beekeeping equipment, hive bodies, frame covers, bottom boards and other related items.
Reginald Peddy, Chief Apiculture Officer in the Apiculture Unit of the Ministry of Agriculture, informs JIS News that the 112 applications received was more than expected. He says that 85 farmers have been short-listed for further assessment but with only $15 million available for lending, the list will be further whittled down.
The Beekeeping Revolving Loan Programme is part of a $200 million package of assistance to the agriculture sector by the Ministry of Agriculture. The Apiculture Unit received some $30 million for a honey production drive.
“We have a number of projects under this drive and one such (project) is the revolving loan programme,” Mr. Peddy explains.
He tells JIS News, that the loan programme is targeted at established beekeepers, and the aim is to assist those with less than 50 colonies to commercialize their operations and to provide adequate hive components for apiaries, while farmers with more than 50 colonies, will be enabled to increase bee stock. A total of 4,485 new hives will be brought into the industry as a result of this loan to the farmers.
Mr. Peddy explains that initially, the objective was to provide each farmer with a maximum of $300,000, but because of the overwhelming number of applicants, the figure was reduced. “We are doing our best to facilitate those beekeepers we consider to be progressive in their operations,” the Chief Apiculture Officer says. The loan will attract a 5.5 per cent interest rate. The repayment period is three years with a six-month moratorium.
He informs, that applicants will not be selected based on need, but on how progressive their operations are, while their colonies should be disease free. “We wouldn’t want to invest in apiaries where over the years, beekeepers have not been monitoring them in the required manner,” Mr. Peddy points out.
In terms of repayment, Mr. Peddy tells JIS News, that the farmers will repay in honey, which will be supplied to a bottling plant at the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) compound in Linstead, which was established by the Agricultural Support Services Project (ASSP) in conjunction with the All Island Bee Farmers Association.
The farmers will receive $800 per gallon for the honey supplied to the plant and this will be deducted from the loan amount. “I think this is quite reasonable. If the farmers are retailing out there, they might be able to get more for the honey, but to sell in bulk at $800 per gallon, it is very reasonable,” he says.
The bottling plant, Mr. Peddy points out, will be beneficial to the beekeeper, as it will remove any surplus honey that he is unable to market. “The beekeeper should have a market at all times for his honey and the bottling plant is targeting the exports, while .the beekeeper will be targeting the local market,” he points out.
To ensure that the loan is repaid, Mr. Peddy informs that the ASSP, which is the monitoring agency for the servicing of the loan, will accept a lien on the bees and equipment as collateral, “so if you are in breach then they have the right to recover.” Each borrower is expected to sign an agreement with the ASSP to this effect.
Farmers should start realizing some income from this venture from as early as next February, which is when the honey will be ready for sale both on the local and overseas markets.
It is hoped that this and other assistance to bee farmers, will boost honey production for the local and export markets.
Mr. Peddy says that so far, Jamaica has been unable to make a significant impact on the overseas honey market, as the industry is still not producing enough honey. “We have gotten third country permits from the European Union to export to Europe and this was granted about two years ago. Last year, we were only able to export about 9