Honey enjoys strong prestige in Georgia. Apiculture is far more widespread than in western Europe. Georgia boasts floral diversity, abundant bee-friendly alpine meadows and a long tradition of beekeeping. The gray Caucasus mountain honeybees is regarded as particularly good-natured and able them to extract nectar from flowers out of reach for most other species. In 2012, archeologists discovered in Georgia what they believe is a 5,500-year-old jar of honey, believed to be the world’s oldest ever found.
Today, the situation of beekeepers in Georgia is rather difficult. The main challenge for growth of production for local retail as well as international markets are issues related to quality and food safety. Only few bigger beekeepers can afford to use stainless steel, which is the norm for higher food safety standards. Beehive management, nutrition and migration conditions as well as sanitary treatments are all very basic. In general, there are only few professional beekeepers as honey production is viewed mainly as a sideline business. By far the largest number of beekeepers in the Mashavera Valley own only a few beehives and do not live on beekeeping. Their productivity is low. The average harvest per hive and year does not exceed 10-15 kg, while the average yield in Germany is twice as high. The main reason for this is lack of theoretical knowledge and out-dated methods. Internet access is not a matter of course, modern technologies or literature are hardly available, and money for equipment is scarce. Most of the beekeepers learned the techniques from their fathers and grandfathers.
While in the USSR large bee farms were run by the state, they soon crumbled after independence in 1991. Technical infrastructure and sales collapsed. Thousands of beehives passed into the hands of people who often had no experience in dealing with them. Nevertheless, honey production is contributing an important additional income to the rural population. There´s about 18,000 beehives in the Kvemo Kartli region today, but only about 12% of the beekeepers manage more than ten hives. Prices for honey almost correspond to those in Western Europe and are therefore very high in relation to income.
While the majority of farmers sells only at the farm-gate and quality of packaging and marketing is not the issue of importance to them, trade and marketing do exist in the region though. Foreign middlemen come regularly to buy honey in the Mashavera Valley. They pay up to € 7.50 per kilo and resell the honey in Armenia and Azerbaijan, where Georgian honey is highly appreciated. The honey value chain is mainly based on personal contacts. Many beekeepers plan to expand their business, as the honey market is promising:
“In Georgia, beekeeping represents a growing sector of national economy. Due to the climatic condititions and paradoxically due to the low level of intensification of agriculture and preserved and diversified environment, the honey production and export represent a very promissing sector of agriculture. (…) The number of beehives has increased more than three time since 2006 with four times higher production.”
Further Informations in the 2017 EU-Study »Honey Value Chain«.