By Murimi Gitari
The world is experiencing a dramatic extinction episode due to biodiversity loss, with enormous risks to nature and humanity. The loss of pollinators including bees and other insects due to excessive use of pesticides has serious implications on food security and food safety, which has negatively affected bee farming in Africa.
As the global community struggles to address the many causes of the biodiversity crisis, governments and people around the world are responding in solidarity to the urgent common threat against nature and sustainable development.
According to the report Financing Nature: Closing the Global Biodiversity Financing Gap launched on 17 September, the worldwide loss of pollinators well underway due to excessive use of pesticides, would lead to an estimated drop in annual agricultural output of around US$217 billion.
“Associated with this loss are the risks of famine and social unrest, potentially more serious but harder to quantify. In the case of biodiversity loss, this means taking comprehensive worldwide effort to appropriately value, protect, and restore nature,” says Henry M Paulson Jr, Chairman, Paulson Institute, which published the report together with The Nature Conservancy and the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability.
Africa has favorable natural climatic conditions that are suitable to bee farming. It is estimated that Africa’s
top honey-producing countries could earn almost $100 million annually with increased investment and innovation in bee farming, which faces a number of challenges.
Ethiopia leads in honey production with 45,300 tonnes annually, but exports less than 1,000 tonnes as many farmers do not meet international standards. Tanzania is second with 8,000 tonnes followed by Kenya (4,000) tonnes, Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
The demand for honey in the market is rapidly increasing but lack of information to bee farmers, very low
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skills development and inaccessibility to modern bee keeping technology is hindering growth. The few farmers who can afford to invest in bee farming are not able to access the market due to lack of support from the government.
The huge potential for bee farming as an agricultural enterprise that can contribute to food security and income generation remains largely untapped in Kenya and other African countries. Policy makers and researchers need to develop strategic plans to support apiculture farmers.
Traditionally famers practiced bee farming using traditional beehives, which exist to date, but yield low returns compared to modern bee keeping methods such as Langstroths that provide high yields and pure honey.
The cost of honey per kilogramme ranges from $6 to $11 in Kenya, five times higher than petrol. Previously a men’s only practice, new methods have seen women and the youth venture into the bee keeping agribusiness.
Bee farming is affordable and
commercial farmers. The National Farmers Information Service estimates that only 20% of Kenya’s honey-producing potential of 100,000 tonnes is currently being tapped.
Bee products include honey, propolis, beeswax and other value added products with honey used by pharmaceutical companies to manufacture medicine, while beeswax is used in the production of cosmetics, shoes, furniture and candles. Honey bee venom, a bee product, is used to desensitize people with allergic bee stings and other insect stings.
Several factors have contributed to the falling numbers of bees in Africa and globally. Very few farmers have ventured into the agribusiness of bee farming in Africa, with NGOs mostly taking the lead. The few
who have ventured into bee farming lack adequate skills and the basic knowledge to manage and handle bees and their products.
With no extension service providers to help, bees migrate to trees and rocks where honey and other products are destroyed by the elements.
However, the control of pests in farms using pesticides is arguably a major contributor to diminishing bee populations. To illustrate the impact of pesticides on biodiversity loss and food safety concerns, the European Union in 2008 banned Kenya from exporting honey due to excessive use of pesticides in farms.
Rampant misuse and overuse of chemicals in farms is a big threat to bees, are a risk to food security and increasing use of pesticides greatly damages fauna.
Chemical manufacturers have refuted these claims saying their products undergo all necessary tests to ensure they are not harmful to
of bees via infected flowering plants to farmers spraying crops without proper directives on use of chemicals.
Parasites have also contributed to the destruction of bees. A tiny parasite known as Varroa destructor
the United States, eating the bees’ hive tissue and infecting them with several different viruses that malformed their wings.
Thankfully, the US National Institute of Health recently announced a breakthrough in engineering bacteria that protects the bees from this parasitic disease by triggering an immune reaction to the deformity caused on the wings. The European
special assistance for the bee industry in its 2020 agriculture programme due to numbers of bees falling faster than ever because of this disease.
The EU has also banned the use of neonicotinoids used on farms in member states. Neonicotinoids
are said to be more harmful to African than European bees with the continent not following suit in banning these pesticides.
Propagating bees into farms increases yields and crop productivity, as they ease pollination. A third of the fruits, nuts and vegetables we consume are a result of benefits derived from bee pollinators and bees pollinate 80% of all crops.
Many farmers around the world hire commercial beekeepers to bring bees to their farms to facilitate pollination.
Bee pollinators, especially honeybees are important to agricultural success. Honeybees are valuable pollinators in agricultural economics. Blue berries, watermelon and almonds harvests entirely depend on bees for pollination.
Honeybees collaborate with native bees during bloom or flowering season to provide pollination to most fruit crops. Bees provide a service that boosts harvests in terms of yields and quality, creating value for farmers to boost the global food supply.
With minimal resources required in beekeeping, governments should encourage farmers to pursue this intensive and environmentally friendly, profitable agricultural practice.
Last year, the Slovenia Beekeepers Association organized a World Beekeeping Conference focusing on global beekeeping challenges. Experts discussed pollination, pesticides, and the importance of using bee products in nutrition and apitherapy (a branch of alternative medicine that uses honeybee products).
The assurance of the quality and safety of bee products, the development of sustainable methods for managing Varroa mites, transferring knowledge on beekeeping, managing bee foraging sources, and promoting bees and bee products also featured.
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