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(Yonhap Feature) Bees buzzing in many Korean cities

All Headlines 09:00 March 25, 2016

By Hwang Seok-joo

SEOUL, March 25 (Yonhap) -- "It's amazing to harvest honey not in rural areas but in cities. Urban beekeeping is growing in popularity as it provides economic benefits as well as a healthier environment," a Korea Beekeeping Association (KBA) official said.

"Urban beekeeping," also called hobby beekeeping or backyard beekeeping, is no more a strange word to South Koreans as more and more city dwellers are joining efforts to save the tumbling bee population like their fellow beekeepers in cities around the world.

In recent years, keeping honey bees in cities has become a nationwide campaign both at civic and public levels as people are growingly aware of its environmental and economic benefits.

On the popularity of urban beekeeping, the KBA official Kim Seon-hee said the aging society also contributes to expanding the number of those interested in it.

"Many people, irrespective of their age or sex, choose beekeeping as a way to obtain healthy foodstuff and prepare for their retirement," Kim said.

In Korea, honey harvest is timed with flowering seasons -- cherry blossoms at the end of May, acacia flowers in mid-June, chestnut flowers between late July-early August and other flowers in mid-July.

According to the Seoul city government, the nation's capital now has 300 beehives in 27 places, up from 186 hives in 21 areas last year.

"The rise is owed largely to the improvement of the city environment and the increase of bee plants," a city government official said.

Daejeon, which hosted the APIMONDIA International Apicultural Congress 2015, began city beekeeping in 2013, and reaped 165 kilograms of honey that year.

Last year, the city ran seven apiaries, including the rooftop of the city government building, and collected 445 kilograms, all of which were donated to a food bank.

"Urban beekeeping is part of urban agriculture, and aims to save bees playing an important role in agricultural production and obtain safe foodstuff," Kim Kwang-choon, a city government official, said.

A ward government in Incheon also installed six hives on its office rooftop and harvested some 60 kilograms.

The South Gyeongsang Province collected 110 kilograms in May in its pilot project.

In the case of Gyeonggi Province, Suwon set up 41 apiaries, Seongnam 41, Bucheon 15, Anyang 20, Euijeongbu 55 and Namyangju runs 80.

According to the KBA, an urban hive yields 10 to 15 kilograms of honey on average, with some commercial beekeepers harvesting as much as 45 kilograms per hive.

In recognition of the beekeeping boom among city dwellers, the central government has prepared a program for 500 city dwellers to learn about beekeeping, starting this year.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs will soon select 500 leading bee farms from 25 cities, which will put the program into practice.

Despite the beekeeping boom, however, there are voices against urban beekeeping, citing possible safety problems.

In reality, students at Soongsil University in Seoul frantically ran away from their campus in April last year as a big horde of buzzing work bees suddenly swarmed onto the campus to search for their escaped queen bee from a hive on the school's rooftop.

However, Park Jin, the head of Urban Bees Seoul (UBS), an urban beekeeping cooperative in Seoul, refutes that bees rarely attack people unless they are provoked.

"People have a tendency to vaguely assume that honey bees are dangerous and to worry that honey collected in cities might be polluted," Park said.

An earlier probe by the Seoul-based Institute of Health and Environment found no heavy metals like lead and cadmium in honey produced even in heavily-crowded Myeongdong in downtown Seoul, he said.

"Moreover, hobby beekeepers, unlike some of their professional counterparts, neither use antibiotics or pesticides, nor move their hives for more yields," Park said.

He stressed that urban beekeeping is fundamentally different from commercial beekeeping in its goal and production method.

"Urban beekeeping puts a strong emphasis on bettering an urban environment through co-existence with bees. Economic interest is secondary," Park said.

hsj@yna.co.kr
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