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Decline of bees spells doom for environment

Milliam Murigi @millymur1

Christopher Nzuki didn’t encounter any problem when he started bee farming 12 years ago. He had more space than he needed and forests and flowers were all over.

However, because of human activities such as deforestation, he is now forced to look for lands with minimal human interference to set up hives. Consequently, he keeps moving from one place to another as he tries to get as many bees as possible.

“When I was starting out, natural forests, flowers and crop covers were all over, but currently the biggest percentages of such have been cleared forcing bees to relocate,” he laments.

Though this might not sound like such a big problem to many who believe that bees are only there to make honey, this decline has serious implications on food security as these insects contribute immensely to crop production through pollination.

The Food Agriculture Organisation (Fao) says these industrious insects are responsible for about 80 per cent of all pollination worldwide yet today’s species are facing extinction rates 100 to 1,000 times higher than normal due to human impact.

Without bees and other pollinators such as butterflies, hummingbirds, bats, and even monkeys, we wouldn’t have coffee, apples, almonds, tomatoes, cocoa, and many other fruit and seed-producing crops.

Queen bee propagation

Christopher Nzuki, founder of the Hive Group, explains the importance of bees. Photo/MILLIAM MURIGI

“There are four major challenges facing bees currently: climate change, habitat loss, diseases and pests. The biggest challenge is the overuse of pesticides,” said Nzuki.

Because of this, governments with the relevant stakeholders are now promoting Integrated Pest Management, regulating the use of pesticides and advocating for environmental conservation. Additionally, the government is planning to play a role in bee-breeding activities and colony multiplication. 

Nzuki adds that even though more farmers are willing to venture into this business and invention of new technologies more favourable to all genders, farmers end up being disappointed because of lack of hive occupation, especially from the queen bee.

“Queen bees are vital to a colony because they are the only ones capable of laying fertilised eggs. If we seriously want to increase our colonies, we need to put in a little more effort and rear queens because without them, there will be no young worker bees to replace the ones dying of old age,” says Joel Masobo from Egerton University.

Masobo adds that the problem of declining bees can be solved if farmers, research and academic institutions invent new ways of raising queen bees because as long as they are available for replacement beekeepers will be able to plan and increase the number of their hives.

Apiculture Platform of Kenya Chairman, Stephen Kagio, says despite the decline of this important insect, the demand for honey remains high. Therefore, there is a need to train more farmers on beekeeping and to engage youths in apiculture as an agribusiness venture.

Further, measures need to be taken to mitigate the use of harmful pesticides, which poison bees to death and to plant trees, which provide foliage for bees and protect ground cover crops and weeds, which provide food for bees.

“We need to prepare our farmers to multiply the bee colonies. This can be done through queen propagation so that we have a queens to be supplied to the existing colonies rather than waiting for about two-and-a-half weeks to raise one,” says Kagio.

Apiculture potential

And what is the impact of this decline on our economy?

Principal Secretary Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, Harry Kimtai says that the apiculture industry contributed Sh14 billion to the agricultural GDP in 2016 and if something is not done this amount will keep declining every year yet if Kenya’s apicultural potential is exploited fully, the country can become a net honey importer.

Currently, production of honey is below the national potential at 25,000 metric tonnes per year versus potential of 100,000 metric tonnes. Statistics show that only 25 per cent of Kenya’s apicultural potential has been exploited.

And what is the government doing to increase these vital insects? He reveals that the national government is setting up 13 bee reserve areas for colony multiplication and distribution, with a target of 14,600 bee colonies produced and distributed to beekeepers.

“We are also planning to develop 10 regional resource centres for beekeeping in 10 counties and support 70 beekeeping community groups in 35 counties,” says Kimtai. 

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