Let us rewind the clock 200 years ago and ask what was
the major difference in South African nature then vs now?
The abundance of honey bees!
What happened? Who is to blame? But more importantly,
what can we do about it?
We at Rautenbach Apiaries want to convey to you our views on
this important situation as we (and others) play a major role in
conserving the world's most valuable pollinator....The HONEY BEE
Why should we conserve the honey bees?
1/3 of what humans eat (not in quantity, but variety) is pollinated by bees, not to mention all the other beneficiaries in the ecosystem that have a direct relationship with the work the bees do for them.
One bee colony can pollinate 300 million flowers a day. Grains are primarily pollinated by the wind, but fruits, nuts and vegetables are pollinated by bees. Seventy out of the top 100 human food crops — which supply about 90 percent of the world's nutrition (not volume) — are pollinated by bees.
Let us look at the word 'bee' first
An interesting fact is that it is not only the honey bee species which pollinate, but also the wild bee species. We have about 20 000 known (twenty thousand!) species of bees on the earth on every continent except Antarctica.
Our focus should not be lost in forgetting that only 7 (seven) of these species are honey bees.
Care should be taken that we don't focus so much on saving the bee (honey bee) that we forget about the important role that the wild bees play - some pollinate certain flowers much better than honey bees can ever do!
So when the ever increasingly popular phrase (and with good reason) "we should save the bees" comes up, think about ALL the bees instead.
What is today's trend ?
"Saving the bees" is a topic that has received a lot of attention over the last 20 years. Does this trend still continue...? Yes. But now we have a situation where many abuse/misuse the term - to gain favour from followers/clients, to look good, or to show off their green footprint values. Yes, unfortunately you have those oblivious people out there who you will impress if you do or say the following: : "I plant some flowers in my garden for the bees", "we have a bee hive on our hotel roof top to show our guests that we care for the bees", "we keep 5 hives on our 5000 thousand hectare farm" (so that our guests can think we are saving the planet), and the list goes on...
Most, but not all, are on this eco-footprint wave, which is good, but really not realistic at all... We need to focus on the big issues. If we only focus on the small issues then everyone will feel happy as if they really were making an impact...or is this just an easy way of ignoring the big issues?
The big issues?
Clear-cutting natural areas (urbanization/de-forestation) , misuse of minor and deadly pesticides, vandalism of hives and killing of wild colonies nesting in a natural hive, and yes... reckless handling practices by beekeepers.
Funny that all of the above involves humans! We have never been able to save the planet... every day we mess it up more and more. There has been no era in history where we could say that this year the planet is better off than last year... period.. fact! So get of your ideas that everything is going to change... it won't, this planet is meant to come to an end one day.
What happened and who is to blame ?
Looking more specifically at a South African context, we have various factors that got us to where we are today!
How do we know that there are less bees in nature these days?
So many discussions with so many older people 70 + years, have led us to believe that this is the case! Many areas were abundant with bees they say, talking about their young days.
Scientists know that bees are dying from a variety of factors—pesticides, drought, habitat destruction, nutrition deficit, air pollution, global warming and more. Many of these causes are interrelated. The bottom line is: humans are largely responsible for the two most prominent causes: pesticides and habitat loss.
We have another major factor in South Africa and that is the vandalism of managed bee hives and wild colonies to obtain honey for making traditional beer. The monster behind this is alcohol addiction/abuse that sits at an alarming high percentage.
Strict policies for killing bee colonies should be in place, but the government does not even see this as a serious problem at all.
Natural habitats around towns in South Africa are stripped from any form of living creatures including wild bee colonies.
Mega Agricultural areas have seen a huge decline in wild bee colonies because they simply can't handle the amount of pesticides when they are lured towards flowering crops, causing colonies to become less and less in those areas. Many of these areas are bordering pristine indigenous areas and have a major impact on the decline of honey and wild bee populations.
Old farmers have told us many stories of how farm workers used to use their weekends to go and find wild honey(for beer making); this mostly leading to total destruction of colonies. (this still continues today) This practice should never have been encouraged, but rather totally prohibited. But when there is abundance of bees (or anything else) then who cares...? only a few normally.
We also should have in place a number of policies and regulations to protect bees, which could serve as a model for nations interested in sustainable beekeeping and healthy colonies. Slovenia is a good example of a country that cares about their bees!!
Let's end this discussion with a simple question.
Who is to blame? Humans and their shortsightedness!
The popular Garden Route in South Africa losing some of its forest area.
China is the highest user of pesticide at 1,806 million kg per year and 2nd the US at 386.
Be prepared to loose 10% annually from a beekeeping operation due to theft/vandalism in a country like South Africa
WHAT ??? are we going to do
Syngenta, Bayer, Dow, Monsanto, and DuPont control/own nearly 100% of the world market for genetically modified pesticides, plants and seeds.
To be realistic, how do you compete against these giants if they are controlling nearly everything? Selling pesticides is after all good business for them, especially when you think that the chemical industry could afford to spend $11.2 million in the last four years on public relations initiatives to say it’s not their fault that bee numbers are dwindling. So we know whose fault it is!
Crop pollination is needed, but are we going to continue doing this at the expense of our colonies health? Pollination is credited with adding massive amounts to the value of crops across the world.
We need to stand together. This could simply mean that we individually start to boycott them, moving towards a more ecological farming future. Buying local from trusted sources, growing your own vegetables, saving your own seed, starting to read labels to actually see what you eat, being content sometimes with a little less variety (for those that make food their god) and many other such practices can have a massive positive effect on our natural environment over time.
Then on the other hand, some producers have swallowed the bait + the hook completely... money is the boss and the big companies know this. Some mega producers believe that ecological farming cannot feed the world and their perspective comes from that handful of Godless companies that own and control everything.
We at Rautenbach Apiaries believe that the earth will continue to decay further. If you disagree, simply ask yourself the question: was our natural habitat better or worse 50 years ago? Of course better! The human and all his greed is to blame, and greed will not go away, everyday it gets worse. Giving nature the respect it needs is vital for the bees and us and at best this will help to slow down the deterioration of things on planet earth.
How can beekeepers contribute?
Urban beekeeping is becoming a trendy thing (a good thing for the most part), but let's also be careful not to overpopulate our suburbs...why? Well, like we mentioned earlier, native/wild colonies also exist in suburban areas and the competition for food could destroy other bee species. Another issue when it comes to urban beekeeping is safety (especially with our aggressive African bee species) and should be carefully considered. A course in basic beekeeping is highly recommended!! If you don't want to keep honey bees, one can still encourage native pollinator species. Many species of solitary bees do not require sophisticated hives/equipment to maintain. Simple habitats from scrap wood can be built and can increase the lushness of your garden or productivity of vegetables.
So we know that in most parts of South Africa there are fewer bees than in previous centuries and that is precisely where keeping of bees can have a positive impact on restoring and helping the quality of vegetation...but,
Commercial beekeepers (who do so for a living) are a dying breed and one can see why. The future of beekeeping for a living is under serious threat. But if you are prepared to get your hands dirty, work hard day and night, get down on your knees often, and not focus too much on the profit margins, then it can still be sustainable (and what more do you need than this?). See our operations section to read about what it involves to be a full-time bee farmer.
A healthy beekeeping industry is invaluable to a healthy agricultural economy.
Think of bees as "livestock" not wildlife
A lack of flowers is one of the main factors behind the decline in bee populations world wide, but in South Africa the problem is more the lack of wild colonies. Although compared to the rest of the world we are still fortunate to have many wild colonies, the signs of fewer bees are evident all over. Therefore, keeping bees in the right areas could greatly improve those areas affected over the last 100 years by vandalism of wild colonies, deforestation, heavy pesticides, and before our modern day era, the hunter gatherers.
It is vitally important that wild areas are not overpopulated with honey bees. That will result in squeezing out the native/wild pollinators and effectively leave those plants dependent on them with little or no pollination.
Doing nothing will not help the current situation.
If you are a land-owner, cover crops that are beneficial to bees can also be introduced in a crop rotation cycle, this will help the bees tremendously and/or consider helping by keeping some managed bees on your property. Choose a beekeeper with some ethical values, evaluate his procedures, how he works on YOUR land, and his communication skills. A good beekeeper will continually inspect the hives and respect your crop / natural vegetation and its needs. If the beekeeper for some reason does not follow certain standard beekeeping or other farming principles then consider rather not having him there. Call on some of the other landowners with whom he has agreements and ask about the person/s beforehand. It is still your land and if you want to be part of a culture where you play your part this is important.
A beekeeper that work him/herself the hives or the commercial beekeeper that work himself the hives together with his staff is normally the cream of the crop. Beware of the office monkeys that you only see on nice pictures, but their staff knows more about what is going on than they themselves. (the more experienced a beekeeper is the better, but we need to also allow someone with less experience to be able to prove themselves)
We can end this conversation with the fact that both consumers and producers can do something. Most consumers can also become mini producers of many things... or is the TV, cellphone and internet more important? It is within easy reach for us to distance ourselves from those things that are within plain sight not sustainable for the future. The question is how important is this to us currently? Will we wake up now...or only in 50 years when it is completely too late?
REAL BEEKEEPERS ETHIC
It is not about how much honey you harvest or how many hives you have.
IT IS ABOUT HOW WELL YOU CARE FOR THE BEES.
sustainable beekeeping - healthy colonies
Ecological farming needs to be on every farmer's mind.
Regular inspections & better hive management is the future for beekeeping.