13 Nov 2018

Booming beekeeping profession creating a buzz

From Checkpoint, 5:54 pm on 13 November 2018

Beekeeping has been hailed as the country's new goldrush - so much so that the industry is now on the skills shortage list.

Beekeping at Island Bay Marae.

Beekeping at Island Bay Marae. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

But there's a scheme in place to get the unemployed skilled up, and back into work as part of a new batch of beekeepers.

In the Wellington suburb of Island Bay, the Ministry of Social Development has joined forces with the agricultural training centre Taratahi and Tapu Te Ranga Marae to work with the long-term unemployed.

It's the brainchild of Dean Stewart, who says the industry is booming, and his students, who are aged between 18 and 49, are catching swarms of bees and building apiaries.

He said a recent law change has opened up more opportunities for locals. 

"It's the new goldrush. There's a big shortage of beekeepers. What they've been doing in the past is importing them, so getting [workers] from the Phillipines. Now the law has changed and they can't do that anymore, which is good for Kiwis as a whole," Mr Stewart said. 

Ron Love has been on the dole since May. He said he loves the job, despite copping the odd blow. 

"I had one sting - it got me right in the thumb, on a joint. I think [bees] seem to know where the joints are and where your vulnerable places are, and they come and give you a nice little sting there." 

Classmate Jesse Regan was working in hospitality and retail, before he joined the training programme. 

He said beekeepers have to be strong. 

"I'm not the strongest sort of guy yet. I've been doing the pushups every day, but I've still got to build up a bit of muscle. Sometimes you have to carry 30kg hives many times in a night, so I'm still not sure it's the right fit for me - but I'm definitely interested about learning more about it."

Dean Stewart said it's a case of finding something that interests people. 

"We got guys that the system had got rid of - the Mongrel Mob, Black Power. We started working with them. We found that by getting alongside them and just finding that switch - once you found that switch, they were away." 

Ron Love knows he still has a lot to learn, but is already thinking big. 

"We're gonna start our own firm - have five million hives and make billions of dollars. Ultimately, that's what we really want to do. Chances are we're going start off with a pre-established firm that's got everything up and running." 
While students have mainly been learning about beekeeping, they've also been immersed in Maori culture - performing a haka and learning how to use a taiaha. 

The group graduate with their bee caps in hand on Thursday.