Apiculture; its importance and future
There is a general agreement on the two most important reasons as to why apiculture is going to play a very significant part in our future. The first is concerned with pollination, which is an essential factor in the continued existence of both economically and environmentally essential plants. Secondly, bee products have constituted an important ingredient of human food, and a versatile industrial raw material from the ancient times.
It is possible to identify two main reasons why the bee populations are now under threat throughout the globe. Obviously, this reduction will in turn, threaten some food supplies, particularly fruits, edible seeds, and honey, and will reduce the seed production of many environmentally significant flora. The consequences of this is quite plain in a world burdened with hunger and malnutrition and incredible environmental degradation.
The first threat to bees comes from habitat degradation resulting from human over-population that requires the expansion of infra-structure, housing as well as industrial and agricultural installations.
This degradation entails a significant loss of wild flowers, flowering bushes and trees whose nectar and pollen constitutes an important part of bees' food supply. As the current notion of 'development' requires the undertaking of human activities resulting in this habitat degradation, bees may well face extinction due to starvation in some parts of the 'developed' and the 'developing' world. I know this is happening in many areas of urban Europe.
The second part of the threat stems from the use of insecticides and insect repellents used in agro-industry. Unlike the disappearence of roosting cranes from most parts of Europe due to the disappearence of their prey indirectly brought about by the use of insecticides, bees will simply succumb to those chemical agents.
It is imperative to recall that nobody really knows what genetic consequences bees may suffer owing to their exposure to agro-chemicals now in use. Nectar and pollen contaminated with them may trigger genetic changes in drones and queen bees, which in turn lead to serious dysfunctions in the generations of bees that spring from them. These may include loss of resistence to diseases and/or other acute congenital problems. Moreover, such ill effects may also result from a wide variety of toxic material we have already discharged into our environment, and remains undegraded for a long time.
So, these are the generic problems we need to address. Otherwise, we will face an environmental catastrophe due to a serious loss of bio-diversity, not to mention a significant reduction in global food production and turning what was once an affordable item of food into a luxury. I believe that once reasonably priced honey from Las Marismas in Spain are now beyond the 'common man' after large tracts there were drained for agriculture.
I think it is still possible to reverse this undesirable trend, but it requires the undertaking of several simultaneous programmes, which are intended to address the threats to bees mentioned above, and to increase the bee population, hence their products.
1. Habitat degradation:
I. Strict control of building and construction projects, and a legal requirement that a certain percentage of the affected area should retain its native flora or its equivalent.
II. Planting local flowering trees that blossom at different times along roads and highways.
III. Reforestation of the deforested areas with local flora. This may not be easy or cheap, but I think it is becoming more and more important.
IV. Educating and encouraging the people to use 'live fences' that flower, growing flowering plants in their gardens, especially those that blossom at different times.
2. Chemical threat:
I. Real basic research (not surveys) into the toxic effects of agro-chemicals and other common pollutants on bees, and their long- and short term effects on the genes of honey bee.
II. Research into development of adequate 'feed' for bees to cover short falls due to harvesting the hives or bad weather.
III. Design of hives for apiculture that afford better protection to bees.
3. Increasing the bee populations:
I. Educational and material support to actual and potential apiculturists.
II. Ensuring that the producers and the consumers get a 'fair deal' through legislation, financing possibilities and the establishment of cooperatives for apiculturists.
III. Bee products are too well-known to require any publicity. But their excellence may be emphasised by nutrition education in schools etc.
Of course, this is only an outline of an approach, which requires to be fleshed with many details. I have not touched on the problem of displacement of one bee strain by another as it has been happening in the US. Although it is a problem to the apiculturist, its environmental and economic consequences are not severe.
I hope that this would be of some help.
Mr. Lal Manavado