Lamzira Rapava, 72, Beekeeper/Entrepreneur
Seventy-two-year-old Lamzira Rapava drives her car from the flat highways of central Zugdidi to the mountain roads of Samegrelo remarkably smoothly. But she is used to venturing onto rough roads. She started doing that at 37, when, following a colleague’s advice, she decided to get into honey-making.
In 1982, neither beekeeping nor a female beekeeper was common in her village, Djumi (formerly known as Kolkhida).
“He told [me and other women] that if we learnt how to take care of bees, we would always have extra income,” she says of the colleague. “I asked my husband to help me get a few bee hives. I didn’t have to ask twice. He brought a few beehives immediately.”
In Georgia, breeding bees remains a masculine job, involving heavy physical labor, so social custom has it that men are better suited for it. But hard work never held off Rapava, who, in 2016, founded a women-led beekeeping cooperative, Nektari-2016 with other two female farmers -- her sister, Dali, and Tinatin Bulia, the coop’s chairwoman. Nektari’s six male members, half of the total group, got on board only later.
As the car approaches Djumi, high above western Georgia’s coastal plains, Bulia points at a large field of tall, yellow flowers. They are the secret behind the cooperative’s increased honey harvest -- goldenrod, a non-endemic honey plant.
Rapava has ambitious plans, and retiring is not one of them. Laboratory tests carried out in Latvia have confirmed the purity and quality of the cooperative’s products. She wants to introduce nomadic beekeeping (which involves moving beehives according to the season and flowers in bloom), grow specific honey plants, open a shop, and finally, start to export to foreign markets.
“It is easy to fall in love with [the bees],” she maintains.
Indeed, they provide a sense of purpose in her life. “[Beekeeping] has embellished my older years . . .I try to be strong in this business,” she says. “I want to have my own place even at such an old age as mine.