The Department of Agriculture – working with bee associations in the Western Cape – has released a new strategy aimed at ensuring the sustainability of the bee population in the province.
The honeybee is as important to agriculture as water, land and air. According to the South African National Biodiversity Institute, more than 50 different crops in South Africa are reliant on insect pollination.
In the Western Cape, 50% of commercial bee keepers’ revenue currently comes from pollination services with the remaining 50% coming from the production of honey and other bee related products. The National Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries currently lists 130 000 managed colonies of bees and 1800 beekeepers on their records. About 70 000 of the colonies are based in the Western Cape. However, the numbers are thought to be much larger, because of unregistered colonies and bee keepers.
The current pollination needs required by bee dependent deciduous fruit crops are 65 000 pollination units – a demand currently being met.
This is forecast to grow by at least another 30 000 units over the next decade due to new cultivars and growth in agriculture. The seed industry is also forecast to increase demand for pollination units by 30 000 over the next decade, and berry growers, by another 20 000 units. In effect, the demand for pollination services is expected to double in the next decade.
However, the bee industry has identified several problems affecting bees, among them insufficient forage, disease, environmental hazards such as pollution and exposure to external factors such as fires and drought.
The new strategy aims to ensure the continued sustainability of the bee population.
The single largest concern is that there will not be enough forage for bees in the Western Cape. 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. One major problem is that eucalyptus has been targeted by DAFF’s Working for Water programme because they are an alien invasive species. This has seen six species of the tree being targeted for removal, even in contexts where they pose no water threat.
The strategy proposes that a Bee Forage Commission be established, which will be composed of players from various provincial and national government departments as well as universities, and representatives from the bee industry. Among the projects this commission will undertake will be the development of a plant book exploring bee friendly plants, a campaign with nurseries to mark plants as “bee friendly” in much the same way some species are being marketed and sold as “water friendly”, and exploring the possibilities of a mass be forage planting project.
Minister of Economic Opportunities, Alan Winde welcomed the strategy and said “we need to take this document with its implementation plans and ensure that each goal sits with somebody who is going to make sure that it becomes a reality.”
Minister Winde said that a properly regulated and managed industry, had the potential to create jobs and expand the economy.
“The report shows that in South Africa, we import a lot of honey. South Africa has imported 2 000 tonnes of honey annually since 2010, and honey production has dropped to 40% of what it was in the 1980s. This is an agri-processing opportunity, to produce local honey, and honey-related products right here in the Western Cape,” he said.
Chairman of the Western Cape Bee Industry Association, Dr Tlou Masehela said “this is a good opportunity for us. This is a detailed plan and we now have a line of communication with the various government departments. This will require resources, and we must explore ways of getting those. The industry at large should really pull together and make this work.”