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In search of the world’s most natural honey

February 6th, 2017

Janet Lowore from Bees for Development kindly took time out of her busy schedule to give 63 pupils from Years 7-13 a presentation on honey, the threats to honey bees and the importance of bees to communities in the developing world.

Janet worked in Africa for twelve years prior to joining the Bees for Development Charity. Her background is social forestry and she has worked in research and as a consultant.

Pupils were presented with three types of honey: some from the forests of Ethiopia, local honey from Monmouthshire and supermarket, value honey from EU and non-EU countries. The audience was asked to consider whether one of these honeys was more natural. The term ‘natural’ was explored, what does it mean? Pupils responded with: no preservatives, no added chemicals, produced in the wild, un-processed – all of these are valid ideas. In fact, Janet informed them, all honey is a natural product, but perhaps some is ‘more’ natural than others and closer to nature.

Pupils explored how beehives in the UK are not a natural home for bees, with so many colonies often put together, and that inspecting bees and extracting honey is invasive and disrupts bees. Janet explained that in Ethiopia, many beehives are hollow sections of tree trunks, hung in individual trees, honeycombs are all natural, made by bees from beeswax. This makes honey from Ethiopia’s forests one of the most natural honeys in the world. Pupils learnt that honey is linked directly to the bees’ food sources; Ethiopia’s forest plants are wild, whereas in developed countries, monoculture (intensive agriculture) affects the flavour of honey and the health of bees.

Janet concluded her fascinating talk explaining how honey bees are under threat in many parts of the world due to industrial beekeeping, which spreads diseases, and increased pollution from agrochemicals. To ensure a health future for bees a more natural approach was proposed, with the audience encouraged to grow bee-friendly plants and buy fair-trade bee products. Beekeeping in places like Ethiopia is also protecting forested areas, as these are the homes and food sources for bees.

There was time after the presentation for questions, pupils learnt more about the work of the local charity and how it is supporting women in Uganda.  Education and training projects enable women to gain new skills in producing and marketing bee products. This allows them to access new business opportunities, learn new skills and earn a source of income. This education opportunity for women resonates well with HMSG’s current 125th anniversary celebrations. Many pupils expressed further interest after the talk and stayed to taste some honey. Mr Meek’s favourite was from Ethiopia, dark, rich and with a deep caramel flavour, delicious!

We thank Janet Lowore for her time and thought-provoking talk, and plan to invite her back to HMSG in the future.

By Nick Meek, Head of Geography at HMSG

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