In Moldova, new frontiers for the honeybee business

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In Moldova, new frontiers for the honeybee business

When it comes to animal husbandry, Ecaterina Cuzuioc has done it all. There was the time she raised rabbits. Then there were the piglets. And somewhere along the line, cattle, as well. With her husband being a veterinarian, it was a logical choice for the couple, who hail from Moldova’s north-eastern Rezina district. But the profits they made never quite made up for the time and work they had to put in.

Then, in 2011, a solution flew their way unexpectedly – and it came in the smallest of sizes. A family friend was moving abroad – would the Cuzuiocs like to buy his bees, hives and tools? The couple jumped on the opportunity, and just like that, the term “livestock keeping” got a new meaning for them.

“We gave up everything and decided to raise bees,” recalls Ecaterina, an economist by trade. “We thought we would have less work to do and would earn more.”

It was an impulsive decision that paid off. Raising bees is still a lot of work, she admits, but she fell in love with it instantly. And she’s proud of the honey business she’s created.

For the first years, she and her husband invested their own money, until they reached 80 hives. Then, in 2020, with the help of the IFAD-financed Rural Resilience Project, they more than doubled their business.

It all started when Ecaterina heard the project was coming to her village of Echimăuți. One of the cornerstones of the Rural Resilience Project is developing and diversifying woman-owned businesses, and as part of these efforts, the project was offering grants and trainings to women who’d started their own small side businesses from home. Ecaterina decided to learn more.

“The representatives who organized the information session were very open with us,” she recalls. “They explained to us all the steps we would have to take and all the benefits we would obtain after applying to this project. Every question had an answer.”

A specialist from the project helped her prepare her business plan. Still, she worried they might not have all the necessary documents to qualify for the grant. “But once we started to fulfil the requirements, one by one, we understood that it’s not at all complicated or impossible.”

All in all, the couple were awarded a grant totalling 91,600 Moldovan leu (around US$5,000) for the expansion of their business. The couple contributed 30 per cent of the total, with the remaining 70 per cent invested by the project. The Cuzuiocs used their share to buy a centrifuge for honey extraction, and the remaining funds covered the purchase of 90 new vertical hives and an uncapping tank.

Ecaterina with some of her new vertical hives.

At first, the idea that this kind of money was available to her seemed somewhat fantastical, she admits, and applying for it was a new experience. “We’d never asked for help before,” she says.

But she’s happy she did, and she credits her husband with standing by her side throughout. “[He] encouraged me and told me that he would support me.” And he did, taking on most of the apiary work so Ecaterina could look after the finances of her growing business. Their son, too, helps whenever he can.

So far, Ecaterina has been wholesaling, but her goal for this next phase of her business is to add value to her product by doing her own packaging. That should allow her to fetch a better price for her honey. “We understood that we have to have a properly packaged product,” she says, “because the buyer chooses the product based on the visual aspect.”

And of course, she wants to increase the number of bee families on her farm and make more honey overall. That means hiring a few people, too, to help with the harvesting and packaging.

The pandemic has set her back a bit in her plans. It made it impossible to participate in the specialized fairs she used to attend, a prime opportunity to meet with buyers. On top of that, 2020 was a drought year that left her with next to no honey. Still, she’s glad that they had no losses and all of her bee families came out alive.

“The bees have become a part of our family,” she says fondly. “We take care of them with a lot of love, we are attached to them.”

In all, 2020 was more of a delay than a setback. And there are positive developments beyond the IFAD grant that make her hopeful for the future. That includes the new beekeeping association in Rezina district, which she’s now a member of. Together, they’re now planning to bring their honey to new frontiers – quite literally.

“With the founding of the association, we will be able to solve several problems we face, especially in the area of product commercialization,” she says. “Together we will be able to collect larger quantities of honey and export our product abroad. Now, we have that potential.”

Read more about IFAD’s work in Moldova.