From the history of Russian Apiculture


The civil war that lasted for 3 years brought great damage to native apiculture. By spring 1919 these had been only 3,5 out of 6,3 million beefamilies left in the country. The well-known Decree "About Apiculture Protection" signed by V.I Lenin in April 1919 did not have any positive influence on that branch of apiculture. So, by spring 1920 the number of bee families had been cut down to 32 mln., 36% beeing kept in frame hives. After severe drought in 1921 covered the territory of 36 provinces the lack of bee feeds reduced their number to 1 - 1.5 mln. The reason of that was not only drought, but surplus-appropriation system and later the enormous tax in kind on bees as well. According to the Decree signed by Lenin in 1921 the tax made 4 pounds of honey per a block hive and 8 pounds of honey per a frame hive. The Decree determined the strict administrative responsibility for avoiding tax paying.

Since 1922 a favourable period in apiculture development has begun and the number of bee families has begun growing. The reason is believed to lie in the transition to the new Economic Policy and the refusal from the tax in kind on bees. The first All-Union Congress of Apiarists held in 1922 greatly contributed to the apiculture rise. In 1924 the number of bee families reached 48 mln., in 1928 - 6 mln. By 1926 the number of apiaries had grown from 339000 to 796000 compared to 1910 and their average sizes had diminished from 18.6 to 6.3 bee families. This tendency might be predetermined for expropreation of large apiaries from rather well-to-do owners and by establishing small and petty bee-gardens by the farmers who wanted to improve their finantial position on account of bee-keeping.

In those early years 2 main forms of bee-keeping cooperation were known: an artel and an associatio n.

An artel was a union of bee-masters, their families, their stock and financial means for collective bee-keeping. A few bee-masters owing 10-15 bee families were united in an artel to combine their-production work. The efficiency of the artel production was much higher than that of the individual work of small bee-masters. The bee families of the bee-keeping artel members became the collective property. An association was aimed at facilitating bee - keeping development among its members and establishing its own production necessary for that. While joining the association its members retained their own apiaries and their economic and legal independence. That meant that they continued producing bee-keeping products individually. The association functions actually included multiple bee-masters activities: production or purchase of bee hives, beeswax foundation inventary; crediting and legal defence of its members, representation of its members in authority organs; keeping instructors; arranging improvement of skill courses; honey purchase and selling; establishing cooperatives for packing bee-keeping products; establishing model educational apiaries; construction of bee-keeping housing according to its members“ orders; edition of books, journals, booklets; insurance of bee families; sugar purchase on a reduced price for feeding bees, etc.

It was common for a bee-keeping association to unite about 500 members who collectively owned under 6000 bee families located in a district area. Side by side with them small associations numbering about 30-50 members could be found. The artels were practically collective members of bee-keeping associations. The scale of bee-keeping cooperation can be seen by the following examples. In 1921 more than 100 bee-keeping artels and associations were established in Kuban region.

Taganrog association imported 14 metal-cutting machines from Germany and in 1926 established cooperative shops producing bee-keeping inventory, that became a well-known plant later. In 1924 the country had about 320 bee-keeping associations united by large cooperatives or unions. The union in Bashkiriya for example, consisted of 17 associations, the Far East union - of 30 ones. By the beginning of 1925 the number of bee-keeping associations in the country had reached 400, by October of the year - 448, by April 1926 - 783 ones. In 1920s there were 11 bee-keeping associations in Ryazan province (one of them beeing owned by the local authorities), uniting 500 farmers and bee-masters. 5 shops producing artificial beeswax foundation, 8 model educational apiaries, 3 collective farm's apiaries and a private nursery breeding Caucasian broodmares were a part of them. The provincial association concluded the agrements with the local collective and state farms with the view of establishing apiaries, construction of bee-keeping housing, arranging the appicultural exhibitions. In 1924 Tula province association united 15 district associations, the largest one numbering 400 members. In 1928 it combined 12 bee-keeping artels and 9 model educational apiaries aimed at demonstrating the most progressive methods of bee-keeping to the beginners. Those associations were credited by the State Bank rending loans to their members. They directed the work of the bee-masters, supported instructors, organized honey and wax purchase and selling, supplied inventory and equipment to the bee-masters, produced and sold beeswax foundation, arranged the courses and meetings.

The Second All-Union Congress of Cooperative Apiarists held in Moscow in December 1926 agreed to establish an independent system of bee-keeping cooperation.

Accordingly the All-Russia Apiarian Cooperation (Apiarist Union) was established in 1927. During the first year of its activity the volume of honey and beeswax purchase and selling grew considerably and the export of the products started. The producti on of bee hives, inventary, equipment and artificial beeswax foundation increased. The establishment of the Apiarist Union accelerated the development of the local bee-keeping cooperation. The number of bee-keeping associations, their members and bee families under their ownship grew too. 15 journals on apiculture were issued under the Union's aegis.

Several enterprices were under the Apiarist Union or its local branches supervision among tem 6 plants producing bee lives, 4 large honey pouring and export bases (in Moscow, Leningrad, Vladivostok, Odessa), 31 wax producing and extracting plants, 27 shops producing artificial wax foundation, 2 plants producing bee-keeping inventory, 7 candle making shops, 4 factories producing honey drinks. In addition the large preparatory work for the construction of several plants producing bee hives, equipment and apiarian products manufacture has begun.

But in December 1929 with the beginning of collectivization the Apiarist Union, bee-keeping associations and artels were liquidated and apiaries were transfered to collective farms possession. All the property, industrial enterprices and means of the former bee-keeping cooperation were transfered to the Apiarist Collective Centre. To day we can only regret the way the possibility of bee-keeping cooperation, the unique branch of Russian agriculture was suppressed.

At the beginning of 1930 on the eve of great collectivization there were 39 mln. bee families (83% beeing kept in frame hives). By spring 1932 their number had reduced to 27 mln., that is 32%. The reason of that was not the Kulaks' sabotage according to the "Apiculture" journal, but the repressed peasants, apiaries devoided of their masters and skilled case. It should be noted that the skill level of many collective farm bee-masters was rather low at that time. Thus an extreme actually tragic situation that caused great irreparable losses to Russian apiculture took plac e.


English translation © Irina Yelsukova