It’s probably safe to say that most of us either shriek, run and hide or want to squish a bee whenever it comes our way. We see them as little pests that could cause quite an uncomfortable and painful sting (let’s not even get started on the folks who are allergic to bee stings), but many of us should in fact see them as the total opposite! For many years, even I wasn’t aware of just how important the Western Cape’s bee population is to our ecosystem. They do a lot more than just buzz around, make delicious honey for our teas or sting us in places we’d rather they didn’t!
All sorts of fruit and vegetables are pollinated by bees such as broccoli, squash, apples, almonds…the list goes on. Pollination is not just important for the food we eat directly; it’s vital for the foraging of crops like field beans and clover, and used to feed the livestock we depend on for those steaks you and your family like to have on the braai whenever the Springboks are playing!
In November 2015, the Western Cape government published an article on their website about just how much our province’s bee population was under threat. This was mainly due to American Foulbrood (AFB); one of the most widespread and destructive types of bee brood diseases. Yes, bees get sick too.
According to an estimate by the Western Cape Department of Agriculture, the provincial average level of infection within an AFB-infected beekeeping operation was estimated to be between 5 and 10 per cent at the time. This might not sound like a lot, but if one were to consider the fact that the fruit industry needs about 120 000 to 140 000 pollination units annually (with the demand increasing each year), this was beginning to pose a serious threat to the fruit and vegetable trade in the province, as well as the quality and nutritional value of the greens in your salad or the groente next to your rys, vleis en aartappels.
Thankfully though, our provincial government has stepped in to ensure that our bees are kept (no pun intended) safe & healthy! The Department of Agriculture is now working with bee associations in the Western Cape, and has released a new strategy aimed at ensuring the sustainability of the province’s bee population. The strategy aims to ensure the continued sustainability of the bee population by focusing on five key areas, including: ensuring sustainable bee forage; research and innovation; developing a regulatory framework; transformation in the industry, and governance and stakeholders.
According to the bee industry, the single largest concern was that there would not be enough forage for bees in the Western Cape, as South Africa’s honeybee species rely on both indigenous and exotic species, like eucalyptus, flowering crops and suburban plants to provide forage sources year-round.
This strategy was of course welcomed with open arms by organizations like the South African National Biodiversity Institute, Hortgro and Econominc Opportunities MEC, Alan Winde. But that’s not where the buck stops – you can help too! In order to ensure that our province’s beekeeping population remains an existent one (and to ensure the exportation of around 2 000 tonnes of locally produced honey each year), forage is the name of the game.
In case you’re wondering just how that applies to you, we’re talking about those colourful & beautiful flowerbeds in your garden and your green, green grass!
Granted, we are still in the midst of one of the biggest droughts our province has faced in over a century, but with a little help from your side (and a little research beforehand on what plants & flowers you can have in your garden that don’t require an excess amount of watering), you too can ensure that the Western Cape’s bee population doesn’t dwindle.
And, the next time a bee comes buzzing along, let the little guy ‘bee’ on his merry little way. He’s doing a lot more for us than we think!