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A growing shortage of honey in the local market has forced Israel's honey producers to reduce the level of exports designated for Jewish communities at its peak season.
"Exports this year were lower than in previous years because of the growing shortage of honey in the Israeli market ahead of Rosh Hashana," said Yoram Paz, CEO of the Emek Hefer beehive company. "This year we exported 25,000 honey jars of mainly the Emek Hefer wild flower honey to Jewish communities in the US."
The country's second largest honey producer noted that last year over 300 tons of honey were imported to make up for the shortage and this year the amount was expected to be higher.
"We decided to hold our honey exports to the US and Europe this year because of the risk of shortage of honey in the Israeli market," said Elad Ravid, marketing manager at Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, the biggest honey producer in Israel, which generates 30 to 40 percent of its sales during the Rosh Hashana season. "We preferred to have a buffer to make sure that we can provide enough honey for the Israeli consumer ahead of Rosh Hashana and, in any case, our exports are minimal in terms of volumes."
Ravid added that, last year, Yad Mordechai exported around 10,000 gift packages for Rosh Hashana, mainly to the US.
Israel produces 3,100 tons of honey a year, generating annual revenues of NIS 50 million. The average annual consumption of honey in Israel is about a half-kilo per person.
"Over the past couple of years, we have been experiencing a gradual reduction in the production of honey, while at the same the demand for honey has been increasing beyond the average consumption," said Paz, who blamed the reduction in the supply of honey on a number of factors. "For one, there is a lack of nectar blossoming as orchards are being uprooted in favor of building infrastructure and residential housing and secondly honey production is being negatively affected by the global phenomenon of the disappearance of bees, which started to take its toll in Europe and we are also seeing the first signs in Israel," said Paz.
A drop of between 70 percent and 90% in the bee population has been reported in parts of the US, Brazil, Central America, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and Portugal in the past few years, although there is no agreement on exactly what has caused the phenomenon. Among the theories are that electromagnetic radiation from cellphone systems, global warming, unknown viruses or changes in the bees' diet have done them in.
"The damage to honey production in Israel is fairly small - a reduction of between 15% to 20%, but we don't expect to see fewer honey jars on store shelves," said Ravid. "Israelis consume less honey than their counterparts in Europe where annual per person consumption is 3 kilograms."
Shahar Tana, director of the Honey Association in Israel, added that climate change, such as seasons without rain, in recent years also has hurt production here.
In Israel, there are 84,000 beehives managed by 450 bee growers. Out of the 84,000 beehives 60,000 are needed for pollination of agriculture crops such as avocado, almond, cherry, apricot, plum, apple, pear and mango trees; without bees to transfer pollen from one flower to another, the production of fruit would be severely hampered.
"Besides the bare threat to honey production, the bee is known to be the main pollinate insect in nature, and without its services, much more damage to the crops we consume is being done, which could raise the prices of foods such as almonds, corn, wheat, avocado, watermelon, apples, pears, cherries, seeds and more," Ravid added.
Meanwhile, to promote honey consumption, Yad Mordechai is, today (Friday), holding an exhibition for Rosh Hashana together with artists at the Nachalat Binyamin market in Tel Aviv, which will offer creative solutions for table decoration.