In many respects, Slovenia is the world's beekeeping capital, as evidenced by its exceptionally rich cultural tradition of beekeeping, which put it on the world map thanks to World Bee Day.
Slovenian beekeepers have played an important part in the development of beekeeping. Perhaps one of the most high-profile achievements in recent years has been the declaration of World Bee Day. Slovenia has thus taken an important step towards raising global awareness of the importance of bees. At the initiative of the Slovenian Beekeepers’ Association, with the help of the Republic of Slovenia and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and with broad international support, on 20 December 2017, the General Assembly of the United Nations declared 20 May World Bee Day. The declaration of World Bee Day is an achievement of Slovenia as a country, of several governmental and non-governmental organisations, and of diplomacy.
The beekeeping tradition in Slovenia
In Slovenia, beekeeping is reflected in art, architecture and the cultural landscape. Beehive panels are a unique decoration of beehives in Slovenia, as beehives around the world do not feature such artistic paintings. Over the centuries, apiaries have become a typical and distinctive feature of Slovenian rural architecture. Anton Janša, the first teacher of apiculture at the Viennese court, was the first to put Slovenia on the beekeeping map. In the 18th century, with his beekeeping knowledge and innovations, he completely revolutionised beekeeping and laid the foundations of modern beekeeping.
Traditional Slovenian beehive panels ©Aleš Fevžer
Slovenia has its own bee, the Carniolan honey bee (Apis mellifera carnica), which is native to Slovenia and is considered one of the most widespread honey bees in the world, due to its hardworking and resilient nature and its excellent sense of orientation. The Carniolan honey bee is protected by the relevant legislation, and in its pre-accession agreement with the EU, Slovenia protected its territory as the native area of the Carniolan honey bee, committing itself to do everything possible to preserve the bee.
The importance of beekeeping in Slovenia can also be seen in numbers: Slovenia has 11,293 beekeepers, 15,420 apiaries and more than 210,000 bee colonies, which is 42% more than ten years ago. With five beekeepers per 1,000 inhabitants, Slovenia ranks at the very top of the EU member states in terms of number of beekeepers.
Honey in Slovenia can be considered our unique natural treasure. Slovenian beekeepers produce Slovenian honey with geographical indication, which is characterised by its specific colour, flavour, aroma and smell. Slovenians consume approximately one kilogram of honey per capita per year, and beekeepers produce enough honey to meet more than half of domestic consumption.
The indigenous Slovenian Carniolan bee ©Peter Kozmus
Clearer origin labelling of honey and honey blends
The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food invests considerable efforts in the labelling of honey blends, as the current labelling system does not provide comprehensive and reliable information about the origin of honey. That is why the ministry began activities to amend the Honey Directive in the part relating to the labelling of honey blends (where the honey originates from several countries).
The main rationale for the change in labelling is the increasing awareness of consumers about their food choices and their right to know what kind of food they buy and how that food is produced. Slovenia received wide support from like-minded countries and called on the Commission to provide for clearer origin labelling of honey blends. The Commission will consider the initiative in the context the Farm to Fork strategy in the revision of marketing standards which is expected to take place in 2022.
Setting up apiaries during the Slovenian Presidency
Slovenia as the country holding the Presidency of the Council of the EU highlights the international importance of bees with apiaries that it will set up during the Slovenian Presidency together with local partners at a total of 21 locations in the EU (Berlin, Bern, Bratislava, Brussels, Bucharest, Klagenfurt, Vienna, The Hague, Sofia, Stuttgart, Trento and Warsaw) and worldwide (Belgrade, Buenos Aires, Cairo, Podgorica, Pristina, Skopje, Tel Aviv, Tirana and Washington). A variety of partners are responsible for these apiaries, for example the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, the Vienna Regional Police Directorate, the Faculty of Agronomy in Buenos Aires, the non-profit association Espace Abeilles in Cernier, Switzerland, the Edmund Mach Foundation in northern Italy and many others.
Since 2021 is the international year of creative economy for sustainable development, in setting up apiaries, synergies are being sought between cultural heritage, modern creativity and modern approaches to beekeeping. In November, we will also be calling for the protection of bees globally by organising more than 30 honey breakfasts.
This stems from the Traditional Slovenian Breakfast project under which the traditional Slovenian breakfast is provided every third Friday in November in all primary schools, kindergartens, institutions for the education of children and adolescents with special needs and other institutions.
Children at a traditional Slovenian breakfast ©Daniel Novakovič STA
Raising the awareness among young people
The Traditional Slovenian Breakfast project started more than 10 years ago when beekeepers began visiting primary schools and kindergartens to present their work. At the national level, the project was implemented for the first time in 2011 and was based on donations of food. Other items have been added to the original bread and honey menu, such as butter, milk and apples or other fresh or dried fruit, but the key factor of origin remains. All the food is produced and processed in Slovenia.
The Traditional Slovenian Breakfast project is undoubtedly a success and has contributed to the fact that more and more children eat breakfast today (more than 50%). But the project goes beyond just providing breakfast. Schools and kindergartens are also advised to hold a natural science day after the breakfast and visit, for example, a farm, beekeeper, fruit grower or food company, or invite beekeepers, fruit growers or other food producers and processors to visit them, to raise awareness about the importance of locally produced food and a balanced diet among children, who are the foundation of our common future.