Belgian Beekeeping


In a quote famously attributed to one Albert Einstein, which is interesting as the great man was neither an entomologist nor an expert on bees: “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.”

The quotation last surfaced in the public domain around 2006, when the sudden, mysterious disappearance of honey bees in the United States, Europe and Brazil was a reminder of Einstein’s alleged utterance, as beekeepers lost the bulk of their hives and suffered significant losses in honey production. To this day no one can explain why the bees failed to return to their hives. It is a fact that the honey bee is totally responsible for the pollination of more than 90 fruit and vegetable crops worldwide, so the loss of a majority or all of our bee pollinators for those crops that do not self pollinate, but rely on the insects and other pollinators such as birds to help them reproduce, would be nothing short of devastating.

It is fair to say, then, that Markus Imhoof’s More Than Honey, which takes an in-depth look at honey bee colonies in California, Switzerland, China and Australia, both from the perspective of the apiarists and their bees themselves, is an extremely timely and largely convincing look at the role that bees play in preserving a great many of mankind’s organic and industrial concerns.

In addition, thanks to breathtaking micro and macro camerawork, as well as fascinating CGI recreations of bees’ highly complex and still as-yet not-fully-understood behavioral patterns, Imhoof’s film takes us inside a world that is at once entirely alien (while still beautiful, thanks to the visuals) but nevertheless governed by societal rules that each and every bee obeys without deviance, at least normally – hence the immense confusion over whither the US and Europe’s errant bees.

The film as a whole strives (and occasionally struggles somewhat) to writ large bee society as a metaphor for a human utopia: “No bee gives orders, but everybody behaves,” says a scientist at one point. In addition, the close-up look at the insect’s advanced hive structure and mankind’s role in keeping it operational ensures that the viewer comes to care about the fate of our little buzzing friends from a completely humanistic perspective. More Than Honey(2012), while frequently overplaying its obvious point that bees represent so much more than the sticky stuff, is nevertheless an intriguing, beautiful and even moving account of the alarmingly fragile nature of both the bee and human condition.

And such sentiments are echoed by Etienne vandeghinste, president of FRUPAH, the Royal Federation of Professional Beekeepers Union in Hainaut, Belgium. FRUPAH offers beekeeping courses for those who wish to learn more about bees’ or even want to become a beekeeper. In addition, the Beekeeping Institute of Charleroi, which is based in Ransart, represents a unique facility in Francophone Belgium. Renowned for the quality of its training courses, its history can be traced to before 1889. The Institute is dedicated to breeding, studying and improving native honey bees. In parallel with the Groupe des Goulettes, the institute is seeking to create a disease-resistant honey bee.

Vandeghinste told Together, “Recent research, while not suggesting that bees can actually ‘count’, nevertheless shows that they are able to make generalizations based on a given number of items, an ability that is probably pivotal to their navigation, by recognizing a given route to their hive or a source of pollen.“

This level of organisation is virtually unparalleled in any type of society apart from human, and it provides further evidence of just how closely linked our species may well be, in ways that we are only just beginning to understand.”