The magnificent Mediterranean coast burnt in many areas in 2021, as the serenity of an ancient way of life turned to toast. In its wake came chaos, destruction, and loss.
We blogged several times recently about the devastating pine forest fires in Greece and Turkey in the areas where pine honey is harvested, and the disastrous consequences on the people, the bees, and the land.
The Evia fires in Greece resulted in the destruction of thousands of unregistered beehives in the northern Evia fires this past summer. In fact, according to ELGA, the Greek Agricultural Insurance Organization, they estimate between 10,000 and 15,000 beehives were destroyed in the area.
As a result, the Agriculture Ministry has decided to create and maintain a more all-inclusive register so it can monitor honey production volume as well as quality. This seems like odd timing, since so many beekeepers are out of business and bees are gone. More regulation, for people who lived sleepy rural lives and were certainly not getting rich from their enterprises but were self-sufficient.
The loss of these Evia beekeepers will result in a drop in honey production by around 10,000 tons per year. This is due to most of the beekeepers not being entitled to receive any compensation for their loss. This will slow the recovery of hives. But even then, the pine trees are gone, and it will take 60-75 years before they grow back to the point where pine honey can be harvested again.
There is a blessing in almost everything, but sometimes it is hard to find. According to Vassilis Douros, as reported by ekathimerini news, the losses would have been much worse if the nomadic beekeepers from other parts of Greece had migrated their hives to Evia. Normally up to 600,000 such hives arrive in the area each year, but in the summer of 2021 the high temperatures caused many to skip the journey.
Almost at the same time last summer, 200,000 hectares of Turkish forests including the red pine trees of Anatolia and the Taurus mountains, went up in smoke. In terms of pine honey production, this was an even greater loss than those in Greece. The fires were followed by deadly floods, and many areas that depended on tourism are also wiped out.
According to Arab News, Turkey produces 92% of the world’s prized pine honey, with around 80% having come from the Aegean province of Mugla. This means the world’s supply of the dark amber thick honey may run low and stay that way very soon. Pine honey supplies are endangered now.
Nearly half of Turkey’s bees lived in Mugla, or 3.5 million out of 8 million bees.
This 4:19-minute video by AP Archive looks at the recent wildfire devastation to Turkey's beekeepers:
Mustafa Alti and his son, Fehmi, are beekeepers that tended their hives until the wildfires ripped through the area. Here, beekeeping is a generational way of life and many of Turkey’s honey farmers had to scramble, along with the Alti family, to find any sort of work, like tree-felling.
These people know better than anyone that it could take decades before they can return to the way of life their families have always known. Some of them already had side jobs, so they have reduced income instead of a total loss. Fehmi’s beehives were in the fire-ravaged mountain village of Cokek.
Turkey’s pine forests were already suffering from drought when the fires hit, and the balance between the bees, trees, and the tiny Basra beetle (Marchalina hellenica) was disrupted. These insects are the heart of the pine honey production process. They live on the pine sap, and bees collect the sugary secretions of the beetles and then make honey from it.
The hope is that the beetles will adapt to newer young trees and that the government will expand forested areas and plant young trees. Either way, it will be a lengthy process of up to a decade before much earning power will be restored.
The Mugla Beekeepers’ Association says honey production from the region will drop up to 95% this year, as there is no Marmaris honey left. It will be 60 years before this honey will be available again. The honey was a blessing and will be a great loss for the world, as it was sold internationally.
Some beekeepers are considering a switch to different types of honey just to keep their income and passion alive. Some options are royal jelly, and sunflower honey, but extra costs will be incurred. Those who love bees will have to do this, there really is no choice, they believe.
The price of pine honey has already doubled from last year, according to the Milas district Chamber of Agriculture in Mugla. For many Turks it is a popular breakfast food, but it is becoming unaffordable. The price won’t go down anytime soon and will probably keep rising as supplies dwindle. The day looms when nobody will be able to find those medicinal plants and honey, even if they have the money. It will be very hard to find 100% pine honey due to the enormous loss.