Standing amid the blackened remains of a burnt forest, beekeeper Antonis Vakas mourns the loss of his craft of collecting the famous Greek pine honey.
A forest fire that raged on the island of Evia for almost a week wiped out his village, destroyed the pine trees and consumed many hives.
“The destruction is immeasurable,” Wakas said. “Beekeeping has been destroyed. We are destroyed. There are no plants anywhere. Bees cannot exist without plants. “
Greece is one of the largest producers of honey in the European Union, thanks to the Mediterranean climate and densely pine forest landscapes that enable bees to collect honey.
About 40% of honey from Greek pine flowers is harvested in the hilly mountains of northern Evia, said Statis Albanis, head of a local beekeeping cooperative affected by wildfires on the island last week. As they swept over the northern half of the island, villagers who defied evacuation orders were torn between saving their property and their livelihoods.
“At first we tried to save our homes. Unfortunately, we managed to save only a small part, ”said Vakas. Only 30 of its roughly 130 hives survived the fires. What’s even more alarming for the island’s beekeepers is that not only the bees have died, but also the plants they depend on to survive.
“There are no flowers to give pollen, so the bee population cannot be revived. There are no pine trees for honey production, so beekeepers will not be able to generate income, ”said Albanis of the Istia beekeeping cooperative, which has about 60 members. “Beekeeping cannot be sustained in Evia.”
According to the latest data from Eurostat, Greece produced 15,000 tons of honey in 2018, making it the eighth largest producer in the EU. But high quality pine pollen honey is especially appreciated, and Greece was the fourth largest exporter in the block.
As fires began to subside across the country, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced relief and compensation measures to help communities recover from the devastation. But for Wakas and many of those affected by the fire, there is not enough help. “I’m so angry, I can’t say a single good word to him …” he said.