Updated: Aug 24
As you read this interview, Max is attending the world’s largest Beekeeper Convention: Apimondia. To get there, he traveled 8,727 kilometers (5,422.8 miles) from Boone, NC, USA, to Istanbul, Turkey. Luckily, we had the chance to ask him a few questions before embarking on this remarkable journey:
Max, who are you, who is HiveTracks, and what brought you together?
My name is Max Rünzel, and I am the Co-Founder and CEO of HiveTracks, where we try to solve two critical problems:
Helping beekeepers to keep healthier bees
And by doing so, we try solving a more significant issue which is monitoring biodiversity
After graduating college, I worked at the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) at the United Nations in the areas of agricultural extension, digitization, and the empowerment of smallholder producers, where I began working with bees and beekeepers.
What got me interested in bees is their hyper-localness. The fantastic thing about beekeeping is that it can be done and is done almost anywhere in the world.
And, of course, there are the many positive ripple effects of beekeeping: There are benefits to local agrifood systems by providing vital pollination ecosystem services. Additionally, it helps beekeepers benefit from a year-round healthy, steady income due to honey’s extended shelf life.
Why is Apimondia so important to beekeepers? And maybe even to everyone?
Apimondia is the International Federation of Beekeepers' Associations and probably the most important global representation of the beekeeping sector. It's a biannual encounter, so usually the beekeeping world gets together every two years. COVID pushed the 2021 meeting into this year, which is also going to be the first hybrid Apimondia, meaning the first Apimondia to occur simultaneously in-person and online
By and large, the conference can be clustered along three areas of interest: active beekeepers, researchers, and the beekeeping industry. As you can tell, anybody interested in the beekeeping space will find an interesting conversation or talk to engage in or something fascinating to learn. Apimondia already says a lot about the organization’s agenda: "Apimondia," a compound word made from two words; "api," referring to honey bees, and "mondia," referring to the world. Additional conference goals contain the promotion of scientific, ecological, social, and economic apicultural development in all countries and the cooperation of beekeepers' associations, scientific bodies, and everyone involved in apiculture worldwide.
Talking about the development, let's look at some history; since when do you think, Apimondia takes place?
Hmm, maybe 1916? Or 1923?
Actually, Apimondia Congresses have been going on since 1895, which is quite impressive!
I did not know that. So Apimondia dates back further than the modern Olympic Games even.
Have you been to Apimondia before, and if yes, when and where? How was your experience?
Yes, this is my second Apimondia. My first one was back in 2019 in Montreal, Canada. I loved it, and it had a great atmosphere – of course, it was a little bit different as it was before Covid. I had worked on beekeeping at the United Nations for about a year, but I didn't work at HiveTracks yet. I was at the conference with Appalachian State University, and it was a unique experience for me, as I had just started to dig into beekeeping.
One of the quality requirements of the honey contest held within the World Beekeeping Awards is traceability. Are you participating in the World Beekeeping Awards, and how could HiveTracks “bee” involved in the future?
At HiveTracks, we believe the solution we are developing helps with a data-driven traceability approach to honey origin. This time, we're only participating as observers. However, I find improving the monitoring of quality requirements critical for the future of the honey industry. Using the HiveTracks Beekeeper's Companion App, beekeepers can keep records on their local environment and beekeeping tasks, which helps to tell a story about the beekeeper's honey.
In the near future, there will be an auto-generated code that beekeepers can share to showcase the quality and origin of their honey. Over time, we can use different data sources such as weather, flora, or even third-party requirements, adding to the validity of a honey profile. It is the base infrastructure for the data ecosystem we're building. It truly has the potential to change the honey industry. The underlying problem of honey fraud is often economically motivated adulteration of honey, which hurts beekeepers who suffer from lower prices and hurts consumers as they don’t get the product they think they’re buying (i.e., high-quality honey). Today, many beekeepers worldwide suffer from this because it is tough to tell the difference between an actual locally produced honey and honey that may have been tampered with.
How does HiveTracks fit in with Apimondia's mission?
We touch on almost all the vital working themes of Apimondia, including bee biology, beekeeping economy, beekeeping for rural development, bee health, pollination, bee flora, and, of course, beekeeping technology.
What are you most looking forward to at the conference? Who are you looking forward to meeting with? What are you looking forward to doing?
I'm excited to see many old and new friends and colleagues that I’ve met previously and during the world bee days at FAO. I'm also excited and eager to learn many new crucial things. In particular, I look forward to the symposium on bee flora to improve and assess pollination practices on Saturday. And, of course, beekeeping technology on Friday will be high on my list. You can have a look at the entire program here.
What presentations is HiveTracks doing?
Three poster presentations. One of our AID-CSB projects in Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, and Lebanon (see below); another on Agricultural extension (Minnesota); and one on the traceability of Sourwood honey.
What sightseeing do you hope to do, and what food do you want to eat in Istanbul?
I'm a huge fan (everyone who knows me from the Berlin times knows this) of Knafeh. It's a sweet traditional Middle Eastern dessert made with a spun pastry called kataifi, soaked in a sweet, sugar-based syrup called attar, and typically layered with cheese or other ingredients such as clotted cream, pistachio, or nuts, depending on the region. Of course, you can also make it with honey! As I've already been to Istanbul, I did most of the classics, but there is nothing like a boat trip on the Bosphorus.
Why is Turkey great for Apimondia?
Turkey has a strong beekeeping tradition, which is a traditional agricultural activity carried out in almost every region of Turkey. Twenty percent of the world's 25 bee subspecies can be found in Turkey. Due to this diversity, bee farmers are encouraged to breed bee species native to their region instead of commercial bees. Once, we even shared a Turkish beekeeper's Hives on our Newsletter, The Buzz (Sign up here)
What is your favorite Bee fact?
One beehive pollinates over a 1,000 hectares of land.
A very critical question: are you going to wear a bee costume?
Last but not least: Do you know a bee-related joke?
Why do bees not go to churches?
Because they are in-sects.