manuka honey beekeepers

When Hive Theft is at a High, Inmates Train to be Beekeepers

At the Hawke’s Bat Regional Prison’s youth unit, inmates are currently learning what it takes to be a beekeeper, in hopes that the skills they learn while incarcerated will benefit them when they are allowed back into society. At the present time, the facility has paid for five prisoners to go through an apiculture correspondence course that is run by a division of Lincoln University at their Telford Campus. According to, Telford has already certified five other prisoners in the beekeeping course.

“They said they were running a beekeeping course for the boys, I just sort of hopped on it,” one prisoner said. “It’s pretty hard not being around family. It takes my mind off all the trouble. From what I heard there’s a lot of money involved.” Prices for Manuka honey have jumped over the last few years and consumers are always demanding more of the substance, mostly due to its antibacterial properties. Depending on the rating, Manuka honey can cost anywhere between $20 and $90 a kilo.

A small Manuka honey operation that controls 30 to 40 hives around a block of Manuka bushes could make upwards of $30,000 in a single season or more if they are producing a high-end yield. Years ago, a 200 liter drum of Manuka honey could be sold for $2,400 – today, that same amount of Manuka honey could go for upwards of $10,500. The increased popularity of the honey and the extreme profit potential has led to many counterfeit operations as well as hive thefts across New Zealand and the world.

The Hawke’s Bay Prison youth unit currently has three bee hives with the hopes of adding a fourth. The honey produced from these hives is used in the prison’s kitchen and donated to local food banks and families in the area. The prison’s youth tutor, Brent McGrannachan, believes that spending time with the prisoners while they beekeep is a great way for them to bond. “I call it grandfathering. It’s a medium to talk to them about life … starting a business and how to be a good citizen.”

While the beekeeping program at Hawke’s Bay Prison seems to be positive, there is concern that teaching prisoners these skills and the hype around Manuka honey will lead them to steal and create counterfeit operations when they are released from prison. When asked if he was concerned about the graduates committing honey related crimes, McGrannachan said “Hopefully not. If they can see there’s a future in it, hopefully they will change their ways.”

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