Anjana Kumar holding a beehive at Hatta Honey Image Credit: Anjana Kumar/XPRESS

DUBAI: In another regional first for Dubai, the only centre in the world to rear the Saskatraz queen bee outside North America recently opened in Hatta. The Saskatraz breed of bees is known for producing huge quantities of honey and is highly sought after.

Called Hatta Honey, the bee rearing station, nestled in the middle of the Hatta mountains is a joint venture between the UAE government and two honey manufacturing companies - Hatta Honey and Al Najeh Honey.

Although it had a soft opening a year ago, it was officially launched last December. XPRESS visited the site recently.

The two-hour drive to the Hatta mountains proved a treat to the eye but with no GPS coordinates to rely on, locating the facility was a challenge. I lost my way a couple of times before finding an iron gate with a sign reading ‘Hatta Honey’.

The facility

I was handed a white jumpsuit and a pair of large gloves before I was led into the apiary (a place where beehives are kept).

The suit came with a rimmed hat and a veil to protect the wearer from the bees.

“Bees sting dark coloured clothes, so wearing white or light coloured clothes is the norm,” said Manea Ahmad Abdulla Nasser Alkaabi, co-founder of Hatta Honey.

The open apiary was surrounded by mountains on all sides which made for a fascinating backdrop. And I could not have picked a better day to visit the place as the weather was just right at 20 degrees Celsius.

The apiary has 1,200 beehives with each hive home to a queen bee and anywhere between 20,000 and 30,000 female and male bees.

“We aim to breed up to 100,000 queen bees by the end of the year. Currently we are producing 17 tonnes of honey annually, but once more hives get ready, we hope to increase the production up to 300 tonnes,” said Alkaabi, adding that the bees in the facility were adapted to the local climate.

The bee-keeper handed me a hive and before I could say no, I was holding thousands of bees in my hands. With a little help from the bee-keeper, I was able to spot the queen bee in the swarm -- it was larger than the rest.

A queen bee lays around 1,500 to 2,000 eggs a day. She has the unique ability to control the sex of the egg she lays.

“She is treated as royalty every day and hence called the queen bee. The rest of the bees in the hive are workers who clean and feed her,” explained Alkaabi.

Importance of bees

According to Alkaabi, a queen bee is worth about Dh3,600.

A kilogram of honey produced at Hatta Honey is priced between Dh200 and Dh350. It is available at various stores across the UAE including ‘The Hive’ at the Global Village.

Bees, besides producing honey, are important for the environment. They contribute to the pollination of crops, plants and shrubs, leading to an increase in agricultural production, diversity and sustainability.

A great many variety of fruits and vegetables including okra, onion, cauliflower, cabbage, chilli pepper, papaya, coconut, carrot to name a few, are pollinated by honey bees.

Pollination is not just important for the food we eat, it’s vital for the foraging crops, such as field beans and clover, used to feed the livestock we depend on for meat.