Bee conservation was one of the seven themes presented at the recent Regional Apimondia symposium held in Durban, South Africa. Five bee specialists from different countries in Africa shared their research and experiences on the theme.
Conservation beekeeping and climate change
Sisiphiwo Dingana presented a paper on the University of the Western Cape’s (UWC) crop trials in the Eastern Cape towns of Mthatha, Bizana, Port St Johns, and Matatiele. He offered an insight into the valuable traditional ways of beekeeping, which could contribute to preserving bee genetics. Sisiphiwo is currently working as a postgraduate research assistant at the University of the Western Cape (UWC). He is leading the UWC Plant Research Assistance Crop Trial Programme in the Eastern Cape. Insect samples, including honeybees, were collected during the past three years as part of these trials. While doing so, he searched for local beekeepers in the surrounding areas.
“Surprisingly, most beekeepers were not registered at the Department of Agriculture, Land Redistribution and Rural Development (DALRRD) or members of any beekeeping association. I realised it is customary for people who are visited by bee swarms to let them stay in their homes for traditional benefits. It is customary that bees are ancestral,” said Sisiphiwo.
He found that bees are kept inside house closets, on the ground next to the kraals (villages), and under the roof ceilings. He used the opportunity to promote bee conservation, hoping that it would contribute to the publication of African indigenous bee-related knowledge.
“Native bee-related knowledge may assist in recruiting more beekeepers to adopt sustainable beekeeping practices.” His aim as a bee conservationist is influenced by the lack of public indigenous knowledge, food security, and nutrition with the potential for climate change impacts.
“Indigenous people living in their local communities tend to interrelate and connect with their environments to make use of natural resources to manage the environments where they live.
“However, environmental, social, and economical challenges impact negatively on this relationship. It has been argued that the conservation of native honeybees is crucial, as food security systems highly depend on pollinators including honeybees in the wild or managed colonies.”
A decline in pollinators affects people’s well-being. Recent studies have outlined the lack of integrated management of native wild bees and managed agricultural colonies.
“It is advisable to consider native peoples’ norms in beekeeping strategies to add value to integrated bee conservation planning. We should seek more indigenous knowledge to preserve the most crucial valuable bee genetic varieties at our disposal.”
Sister Mechthilde Faist of the Franciscan Sisters of Siessen, in Ladybrand in the Eastern Free State of South Africa, presented a lecture on apitherapy, a branch of complementary and alternative medicine that uses honeybee products, including honey, pollen, bee bread, propolis, royal jelly, beeswax, bee venom, and larval bees, practised at the mission.
But there is a delightful, albeit surprising, twist to this bee house. Born in Germany in 1957, Sister Faist moved to South Africa in 1983. She is entrusted with the management of the Regina Pacis Retreat Centre. Besides the use of bee products for health purposes, visitors can also enjoy spending a relaxing time with bees. Inside a small house, like a garden house, some beehives are installed in such a way that a bench or bed can be placed over them. The bees have their own entrance area at the outside wall of the building so that their normal behaviour is not disturbed. Inside the building, the benches or bee beds are sealed properly so that the bees do not have access to the room. Because of mesh wires over openings, the air, smell, vibration, and the sound of the bees fill the room. This experience is believed to have a positive and healing impact on the human body.
Bacterial strains a remedy for AFB?
Dr Teresa Goszczynska has been a senior researcher at the Agricultural Research Council, Plant Health and Protection since 1994. Based in Pretoria, she is a bacteriologist, working with plant pathogenic bacteria and Paenibacillus larvae, the causal agents of American foulbrood in honeybees. Her research is aimed at isolating and identifying indigenous bacteria present in South African honey and bee bread that can inhibit P. larvae.
She believes microorganisms present in colonies play an enormous role in the health and vigour of these insects, which are threatened by many diseases, including American foulbrood (AFB). AFB is deadly to the brood and can result in the collapse of the infected colony. Clinical symptoms of AFB are present in the Western Cape.
“It is intriguing that P. larvae have also been detected in other provinces, but the clinical symptoms were absent. There is a high probability that such colonies are protected by the naturally occurring P. larvae-inhibiting bacteria in their environment.
Saving the gum trees
Charles Verster of Ulwando Bushclearing in Johannesburg, South Africa, is a practising horticulturist, specialising in alien invasive weed control. He believes a strategy is needed to protect eucalyptus trees for the benefit of honeybees. Besides developing vegetation management plans, he conducted botanical assessment work.
“For decades, there has been negative publicity regarding water consumption by gum trees and their related impact on biodiversity, which is the key driver behind the war against gum trees,” said Charles.
“As a result of the eradication of eucalyptus trees, especially from water catchment and riparian areas, beekeepers believe that their bee colonies and production have been significantly impacted.”
His presentation was aimed at stimulating thought and would hopefully be a catalyst in addressing some of the concerns in the quest to find solutions to boost honey production through Eucalyptus trees and or other species.
Pollinator decline in Tanzania
Dr Kathrin Krausa, of the Khan University, Arusha Tanzania, is an entomologist with research interests in the communication behaviour of social insects, namely stingless bees, ants, and termites. Her current research focuses on the foraging and recruitment behaviour of African stingless bees with the aim of conserving and managing all pollinators.
“We are facing accelerating rates of changes in the environment and an ongoing loss of biodiversity that threatens ecosystem functions and services,” she said.
“Flower-visiting insects and the ecosystem service of pollination they deliver, are not exempted from this.” She said evidence pointed to declines in important pollinators that could lead to food insecurity.
Like most other countries, Tanzania lacked a pollinator monitoring programme that would reveal changes in diversity over time, empower various stakeholders to make informed decisions underpinned by data and provide a measure for success. The newly formed Aga Khan Research Station in Arusha, Tanzania, is committed to tackling pollinator conservation and working towards holistic pollination management, including honey-, stingless-, and solitary bees to mitigate pollen deficits. She concluded that it is important to raise awareness among farmers about the use of pesticides to preserve plant and animal biodiversity, ensure food security, and promote sustainable development.
For more information, contact Kai Hichert at (+27) 82-561- 0346 or send an e-mail to email@example.com Some of the presentations are available for reading at this link: https://www.apimondiaafrica2023.org.za/scientificprogramme/