Sustainable beekeeping is the future of honey production

In Uruguay, beekeepers have the possibility of using sustainably certified eucalyptus plantations to harvest high-quality pure honey. Apart from encouraging local industry, this guarantees quality in beekeeping production.

“Eucalyptus honey is different,” says Carlos Demov, a beekeeper working with UPM in Uruguay. “It has a different flavour, a different colour, it’s special,” he adds.

It is April and beekeepers in Uruguay are in the middle of the harvesting season. After the harvest, the hives are closed for the winter, leaving the bees with enough honey to endure and survive the season. Honey is produced in abundance here, thanks to the species that flower in the eucalyptus plantations and native forests that UPM manages.

“From May to August, beekeepers work in what we call ‘shed work’, which includes recovering the material that needs to be repaired, and the replacement of all the material for the hive,” explains Demov. The hive is then prepared for the change of season in September, and so the cycle continues.

Demov has been working with bees for 30 years and is in the process of obtaining a PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) certification for his honey, which will allow his product to enter competitive markets all around the world.

An investment for the future

Every year, UPM puts out a national call for local producers to use eucalyptus plantations for their honey production as a complementary product to sustainable forestry. The number currently stands at 220 beekeepers in UPM plantations across Uruguay. “Since 2012, UPM has been working along with local institutions to assign spaces to these beekeepers within UPM’s fields. The aim is to favour the local beekeeper and the small producer over the large one,” explains Magdalena Albornoz, who works in Complimentary Products at UPM in Uruguay.

In 2017, these beekeepers had the opportunity to participate in the start of a pilot project that was aimed at the ones interested in certifying their honey production with a PEFC seal. To develop the project, PEFC, a European organisation in forestry certifications operating in 50 countries, including Uruguay; has been working along with UPM and diverse national regulatory organizations.

The main advantage for beekeepers in obtaining this certification is the added value it brings to their honey production through the use of the PEFC seal. The seal is recognised in more than 70 countries and it implies that a product has a sustainable forest origin. “It’s a change in the beekeeper’s mentality, but it opens new doors to their products,” says Gabriela Malvárez, Technical Secretary, PEFC Uruguay.

This seal allows for wider market opportunities for honey from sustainable forestry. “The certification validates that all working and sanitary conditions have been complied with in order to maintain the honey’s quality, making sure it’s not mixed with others and that there’s no presence of chemical products within the field in which it’s being produced,” says Demov.

The steps towards sustainable validation

PEFC’s certification takes two fundamental factors into account. The first is forest management – which involves how forests are managed in terms of production, being accountable for the environment, local legislation and community relations. The second is the chain-of-custody certification, which validates product traceability and its process from the very moment it departs a certified plantation.

“Each step is validated, from the initial to the end product,” explains Malvárez. This means the honey produced by these beekeepers will be certified as sustainable throughout the whole manufacturing process, which is important not only for its commercialisation but also for the bees’ health and environmental care.

The pilot certification process is currently ongoing with 13 out of the 220 beekeepers who started out in 2019 in the running to obtain the first worldwide PEFC seal for producing honey from sustainable forestry. To acquire the certification, beekeepers also must participate in training related to good beekeeping practices, safety and fire prevention, and chain-of-custody certification.

In its commitment towards sustainable development and the communities which are related to UPM in Uruguay, the company extended the scope of its certification of “Forest Management” to “Forest Management and Beekeeping Production” in order to certify the beekeepers’ PEFC chain of custody.

According to Albornoz, the 220 beekeepers using UPM plantations for their production use more than 31,000 out of 53,000 available hives in the 65,000 hectares of plantations that have potential use for beekeeping. “There is plenty of space for more beekeepers in UPM’s plantations. Our idea is that they keep on coming because there is space to produce better quality honey,” she says.

Environmentally-sound honey

Fernando Camejo, another beekeeper who participates in the programme, works with 400 hives in total – 200 of them with UPM Forestal Oriental. He explains that one of the positive aspects of working with PEFC certification is the guaranteed quality of the honey. “Our honey will be free of toxic and chemical waste. This way, we’ll be able to get into the market,” he says.

Being able to depend on certified forests is important because beekeepers are concerned about the high percentage of toxic waste which ends up contaminating their product. “Pesticides do not distinguish one insect from the other. They’re being released to kill insects which are harmful to some productions, but they’re killing a wide variety of other insects which are beneficial to the environment. The bee is a key element in the environment, and it’s only thriving because we’re taking care of it,” adds Demov.

“Sustainable forest management provides more guarantees to the product,” says Albornoz. “The consumers’ are now going for environmentally-friendly products which don’t come from nature’s exploitation.”

“The honey that bees are consuming is not good, and that is why they are dying,” says Camejo. “That’s the reason why it is so important to produce better honey. Working with UPM means we’re saving the bee. We’re learning about beekeeping and we’re working more efficiently, harvesting better quality honey. It has a future.”


Text: Josefina Mösle