Biodiversity loss stings bee farming in Africa

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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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