Beekeeping: Challenges and rewards for migrant workers

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OPINION:

By Roger Celso Baldo

There are a number of challenges that migrant beekeepers encounter in New Zealand, but thankfully they are offset by the many rewards this industry has to offer.

Firstly I will address some of the challenges:
a) The approval of work and travel visas is a long drawn out process.

b) We have extended working hours, coupled with the shifting of hives at night.

c) A heavy load of beehives and honey supers during the busy season.

d) Communication and cultural disconnects between Kiwi employers and co-workers.

e) Changing policies enacted by both the Philippines and New Zealand governments.

f) The need for upskilling to be up to speed with beekeeping practices in New Zealand.

g) Working away from loved ones in the Philippines.

h) Juggling the budget and balancing time between family and work.

i) Circumstances brought about by Covid-19 have had emotional effects, brought financial challenges and we are currently unable to to visit family overseas. Furthermore, there are uncertainties in attaining and maintaining working visas and residency status.

The flip side of the coin is the realisation that there are many rewards beekeepers in New Zealand enjoy compared to where they have come from.

Fortunately, many beekeeping outfits around New Zealand are recruiting Filipino workers. What’s more, the jobs on offer are not just for assistant beekeepers; some have filled key positions such as managerial, team leaders and queen-rearers roles.

In addition, most employers over here provide the necessary training to upskill their employees so that they can collaborate with their Kiwi counterparts to provide efficient and effective delivery of their responsibilities.

Christian ‘Pagano’ Magno, a graduate of SLU-EISSFI in Baguio City, Philippines, of Settlers Honey in Taranaki, had this to say in a text message interview: “One of the most challenging and at the same time satisfying experiences as a beekeeper is during harvesting. This is when we need to deliver heavy loads of honey. Sometimes if our team cannot harvest our areas on time we need the help of other teams. And about my family back home, it’s hard to be away from them, especially during this pandemic. I can only see my son grow up virtually.”

Another promising beekeeper who was trained by his dad at Loo-Buguias, Benguet and at DMMMSU Bacnotan La Union, Philippines, is Joel Peged. He was hired by Bragutas Queens in September 2015 – where he is working to this day. He explained: “I like it here because I have the opportunity to do beekeeping [on] my own and the boss and co-workers are very supportive. I have my young family here and we plan to work out our residency in the future.”

As beekeepers are unable to go back to the Philippines due to the pandemic, many of them have taken the opportunity to explore New Zealand – travelling from the South Island to the North and vice versa.

Another exciting activity is participating in sports leagues such as basketball and volleyball, mountain biking and bush/park walking and chartered fishing. The most significant event, though, is the captivating experience of visiting the North Island’s snowy mountain – Ruapehu.

Given the demand for honey and workers in the nation’s beekeeping industry, it is fervently hoped that there will be more opportunities in the future for our beekeepers and for all aspiring beekeepers back home to come over and work, if not live permanently, here in Aotearoa.