It isn’t generally known, but South Africa is not a bee forage friendly country and apiculturists are struggling to maintain the industry. There is a real risk that there will not be enough healthy bee colonies to service the agricultural industry, in terms of pollination services, in the very near future.
The beekeeping industry is facing some of its biggest challenges with shrinking habitats and increasing bee pests and diseases. This is aggravated by an increase in the planting of crops that are reliant on bee pollination. It has been estimated that in 10 years time the pollination requirement will be as much as double the existing managed bee populations. It is therefore critical that all stakeholders invest into the future of the honeybee.
The most consequential issue leading to a bee crisis in South Africa is declining floral resources and the subsequent scarcity of quality pollen, which leads to malnutrition in bees. The key to good bee health is a continuous supply of diverse pollen and nectar from natural sources. Bees consume nectar for energy and pollen as a source of protein. The availability of quality pollen resources is critical for beekeepers in order to build up bee populations prior to using them for pollination services. Any shortfall of pollen leads to protein stress that weakens bees, making them more susceptible to diseases and pests (such as Varroa mites). It also dramatically slows the queen’s breeding output, resulting in low field strength and under-performing pollination services. This has a direct impact on the agricultural sector, as crop yield declines.
All these stresses are negatively impacting the number of wild honey bee swarms from which the average beekeeper’s apiary stock is captured. It is critical to boost the wild population with good nutrition in order for the swarms to multiply as many times as possible during the year. Swarms are the actual “animal” beekeepers farm with, not individual bees. Natural multiplication of swarms take place when sufficient nutrition reach the swarm in order to stimulate the queen to produce an excess of eggs above what is necessary to maintain the hive. This excess will then swarm off to produce a new swarm (the actual offspring of a bee swarm) which beekeepers will try to capture.
This is where each of us can make a difference. Farmers, municipalities and home gardeners can reverse this trend by choosing bee-friendly plants as ornamentals, windbreaks, on field edges and ridges, and along roadsides. Fortunately, a number of plants used for soil erosion control or for shelter have abundant flowers to feed bees, making the selection of multi-purpose plants more desirable. This has been done on a large scale by farmers and apiarists in Israel, where more than 1 million trees have been planted within the last 10 years to provide forage for bees. In a desert country that goes 6 months of the year without rain, the provision of bee forage has now enabled them to produce more than 3,600 tons of honey per year, enough for export. Other successful programmes have been implemented in Australia, New Zealand and the USA.
It is critically urgent for us to take responsibility to provide the necessary forage to ensure sufficient and healthy bee populations to cater for the current and future pollination demands. Essentially, without our bees crops will decline, resulting in dwindling revenue and food security issues at a national and global level.
When deciding on what to plant, decide on something that is beneficial to our bees as well. If every garden can house as many as possible, but at least a few really good bee forage plants we will go a long towards strengthening at least our wild honey bee population, indirectly also assisting the beekeepers and the pollination industry. Do your part. Plant flowers and trees to save our bees!
Contact Inge Lotter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 0828215011 for further information and plant lists or speak to someone at your local nursery today.