Meet NATO’s beekeeper, Bruno Harmant

  • 12 Sep. 2023 -
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  • Last updated: 18 Oct. 2023 12:11

"When I open the beehive, it makes me feel connected to nature," explains Bruno Harmant, beekeeper at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. Few would expect to see an apiary at the offices of a political-military organisation like NATO, but since 2020, beehives have become an integral part of a wider ‘greening’ initiative at the Brussels headquarters. And for Bruno, beekeeping is about more than honey; it is a way for him to raise awareness about biodiversity and sustainability, and become one with the environment around him.

Bruno Harmant, beekeeper at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium


The hive mentality: Bruno’s story

Bruno began beekeeping in 2013. After years of doing development work in countries close to the equator, coming back to Belgium and experiencing its seasonal changes felt like a new beginning. “I started to consider having beehives, but all the beekeepers lived too far to come over regularly to manage them. Then, one of them asked me, ‘Why don’t you try being a beekeeper yourself?’ and here I am, a decade later and taking care of 60 beehives in total.”

Besides beekeeping, Bruno also dedicates his time to organic farming. He believes that farming and beekeeping both help connect people to the cycles of nature. “I love being in contact with the beehive, as the bees are in symbiosis with the environment. In spring, they labour hard and collect pollen and, in winter, they live off what they’ve foraged.”

Bruno Harmant, beekeeper at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium


NATO’s busy bees: helping to green the Alliance, one beehive at a time

The NATO beekeeping project began in 2020 with two hives. It was initiated as part of the forward-looking ‘NATO 2030’ agenda, which aims to ensure that the Alliance can face future challenges in various domains and areas, including climate change. Over time, NATO’s apiaries have doubled in number. The bee population varies throughout the year, holding an average of 50,000 bees per hive at the height of summer when the potential for nectar harvesting is greatest.

Before the project initiation, the bees experienced a NATO-appropriate entry to the NATO site: screening at the security detectors. “One of the security technicians borrowed the beekeeper’s jacket and carried out the inspection of the beehives and their contents. It felt quite surreal.”

For Bruno, the busiest period of the year is from April to June, when the bee colonies are increasing in numbers and need to be observed more carefully to ensure sufficient honey production and to control swarming. “In spring and summer, the hives require constant attention. I come to NATO headquarters frequently to check if the colonies are healthy and producing enough honey to sustain themselves for the winter period. Meanwhile winter time is more relaxed and calm.”

At NATO headquarters, Bruno harvests honey twice a year, in May and July. “The hives yield on average 50 kg of honey, depending on weather conditions. We harvest 25 kg and leave the rest to make sure the bees have enough food to survive the winter,” explains Bruno.

Honey at the headquarters is more than just a sweet treat. Every year, jars of honey are sold at the NATO Charity Bazaar, and the money is donated to Belgian and international charities. Additionally, having hives on the premises helps to raise awareness about the importance of bees for local ecosystems among NATO staff and their families.

“As part of the beekeeping project, there are sessions for NATO employees and children attending summer camps at the headquarters. In 2023, we organised eight workshops for kids and two for NATO employees, teaching them more about the honeybee lifecycle and beekeeping. When people get to experience this first-hand and see how precious honey is, they are more likely to think sustainably and buy local products.”

According to him, the ultimate reward of a beekeeper is the honey itself: proof that the bees are healthy and thriving in their environment. “It feels special, like a sacred bond, to have the honey as something to share with the bee colony,” Bruno says.  

Bruno Harmant, beekeeper at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium


Wildlife ambassador: protecting the bees in a changing climate

In recent years, climate change has made beekeeping more challenging. “The seasons have not been the same in the last five years. It has been either unseasonably rainy, cold or dry. Some weather elements – drought, for example – affect bees negatively and cause them a lot of distress,” says Bruno. “As beekeepers, we have to adapt ourselves and our technologies to deal with climate change and the unpredictable seasons and challenges that come with it, including Asian hornets, which are predators of bees.”

“We need to understand that everything in nature is interconnected. Bees collect and sample pollen within a three-kilometre range and are therefore the best indicators of the quality of the environment surrounding us.”

Bruno remains optimistic for the future of beekeeping and honey harvesting, and his passion for his job is evident. “Honeybees are the best partner for awareness-raising. By lecturing and raising awareness about them and the need to preserve natural habitats and biodiversity, I also rally support for other bee species. It feels like being an ambassador for wildlife.”

Bruno Harmant, beekeeper at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium