18000 square miles of honey bees feel the crunch of cheap Chinese honey flooding world markets and new trade restrictions

This year 18000 square miles of almond orchards called to action an estimated 2 million colonies of America’s honey bees, and the pressure is building annually as the industry grows.  The New York Times investigated and reviewed this year’s Almond season raising key issues trending globally.  One of which is the switch in operational focus in beekeeping.  ‘Lyle Johnston, a beekeeper and broker based in Colorado, says that Honey Farms was primarily a business that sold honey. “I’d rather just do honey; it’d be a lot less stress,” he said. “We had to find another way to generate revenue. When I first started in the ’80s, we were probably 80 percent honey, 20 percent pollination, and now it’s the opposite.” In recent years, American beekeepers have been finding it increasingly difficult to compete against cheaper honey from China. As a result, most beekeepers turn to pollination events — especially the almond season — to make ends meet.’

This switch in focus is not uncommon, and a trend we are seeing in South Africa too as our honey industry takes a beating at the hands of cheap imports, our demand for agricultural product increases and the needs of honey bees for pollination mounts.

Keeping honey bees healthy and safe in the matrix of pollination season, while beekeepers address the constant threat to them of parasites, pesticides, pollinator stress and lack of good nutrition, is the same the world over.  Tackling the issues requires both a composite and collective solution between all parties.  A solution including key research to assist and guide decision making, such as the benefits of diversity of forage within monoculture cropping, like wildflowers, to support honey bee nutrition.  A keen focus of The Bee Effect.  Neal Williams a professor and researcher in the entomology department at U.C explains this in Jaime Lowe’s report: ‘Pollinators can produce crops in a variety of ways — and sometimes, obviously, as nature intended, just by showing up. “Some of the work we’ve done is to determine whether some combination of wild bees with honeybees improves overall pollination,” Williams said. “If there is a synergy. If you want more pollination, you either need more bees or you need to make them better.” Williams found that planting wildflowers increases pollination in two ways: It attracts native pollinators, which create competition in managed honeybees, and the wildflowers vary bees’ nutritional intake. Several years ago, Williams conducted a study that monitored populations of bees for two consecutive seasons when growers planted wildflowers on the borders of their orchards. The results established that the wildflowers had not distracted honeybees from almond pollination.”

In America, President Barack Obama considered the threat to honey bees and the impact on agriculture and food security serious enough to create a task force promoting honey bee health and committing millions of acres to habitats for honey bees and other pollinators.  His program resulting in a Pollinator Partnership Action Plan (PPAP) to support this, is a global trend setter that needs to be followed by every country, and implemented along the same principal tasks.  While each country has slightly different skews, the issues remain the same for all.

In South Africa, in the Western Cape, the Western Cape Bee Industry Association (WCBA) have embarked on a strategy for sustaining the honey bee population and apiculture in the Western Cape, creating committees of interested and affected parties & businesses, to address the same key issues that are outlined in Obama’s PPAP.  What is clear across the globe is that private parties cannot effect a change in the status in the threats to honey bees without their governments complete commitment and involvement.  Not least of which is required funding to support the initiatives that can and will change this status.

Honey bee health concerns are a global trend.  We can learn from different countries experiences.

Read More in this NY times feature, take a journey through the world of beekeeping, the pressure points, the concerns and the ever-present question of ‘how do we save our honey bees’.

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