Decline in bees’ numbers is a threat to farming in Uganda

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By Brian Ssenoga

Posted  Wednesday, January 1  2014 at  02:00

In Summary

The relation between the crops we grow and bees are mutually beneficial. But the population of bees is declining worlwide including Uganda. This will have a negative impact on farming.


Honey has a long history of human consumption and industrial use. It is commonly consumed in its natural state for several reasons including as medicine, as food, as drink, or as an additive in a variety of foods and beverages.
Being a product of bees, any threat to their population relates to an automatic drop in volumes of honey. The 2012 World Honey Report indicates that from 2005 to 2010, the global production of honey increased by 10 per cent from 1.4 million to 1.54 million metric tonnes.
Inspite of this, however, from October 2006, there were unexplained losses of honey bees in major production zones.

The situation termed as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), was in part responsible for a two per cent decline in world honey production from 2006-2007. And as of 2012, CCD remained an ongoing problem for the industry.
Uganda is no exception to these losses of honey bees and it is not only economically unsustainable for beekeeping but for food security as well. Dr Anne Akol, who heads the department of biology, College of Natural Sciences, Makerere University, notes that the bee losses in Uganda and Africa, in general, are due to several factors. These include poor queens, pesticides, and the colony collapse disorder.

Common diseases of the honey bee that have been identified in Uganda include: Acarapisosis, American foulbrood, European foulbrood, Small hive beetle infestation, Tropilaelaps infestation, and Varroosis.
“Considering the decline in bee colonies and the growing pressure on food production systems to meet the increasing demand, it is vital to fully recognise the role of these natural pollinators and take immediate action to protect them,” she says.

Her argument is to save bees so as to increase pollination, which later results in increased food production. But this is hampered by a number of issues including the lack of a national policy on apiculture.
Despite the importance of bees in agriculture and their role in conserving biodiversity, Uganda is yet to unlock the potential of apiculture. There is low public awareness on the value of bees, the regulations to safeguard safety and health of bees and consumers is also weak, and coordination of beekeeping practices under the different sub-sectors is poor.

Alice Kanganve, the principal entomologist at the ministry of agriculture, states that there is an eminent threat to honey bee stocks in Uganda.
This results from increased trade, intensified and extensive commercial agriculture which hastens loss of natural vegetation, and the effects of climate change. Therefore, for better farm results, beekeeping should be deliberate not just for the products but for pollination services.

Apiculture through the pollination services plays a significant role in improving and sustaining agricultural yields. Any drop in numbers or species should be a significant danger sign both to biological diversity and the environment services particularly to the agriculturalists. Unfortunately, there is no national honeybee pest and disease control system at the border entry points.

Economic value
Information from Api Trade Africa, a regional apicultural organisation, shows that worldwide, honey bees provide pollination services to 71 per cent of agricultural crops and flowers. Meaning one third of the global food supply is to a large extent provided by bees.
Another bee expert at the ministry of agriculture, David Mugisha, says bees also provide pollination for forage legumes, these crops are grown mostly in the cattle corridor, especially for high-producing dairy cows.
In fact, a plant called alfalfa accounts for about 80 per cent of the total economic value of bees. This means that without bees, there will be a significant shortage of meat and dairy products because of the inadequate production of cattle feed.

In Uganda, honey bees provide pollination services to such crops as coffee, cotton, beans, peas, mango, citrus, avocado, tomatoes, passion fruits, apples, soya beans, water melons, and several others. Any collapse in the services will have detrimental effects to the livelihoods of the 65.5 percent of rural farmers, who also depend on agriculture for food security.

Cuts across
“Without bees, we must also forget these essential foods. However much one sows in fertile soils, applies fertilisers, irrigates the crops but if the bee does not aid pollination, the farmer would have wasted time,” observes Bosco Okello, chief executive officer, Api Trade Africa.
Dr Akol emphasises, “If they somehow became extinct, as the situation seems to point in that direction, there will a major problem in food production. It is true that some of the pollination is done by other types of bees for certain plants specifically. The honey bee, which is the major group, cuts across, it pollinates all plants and does the job quiet well”
She cites that several scientific studies have shown that bees provide us with foods that contain most of the available dietary lipid, vitamins A, C and E, a large portion of minerals such as calcium, fluoride and iron, antioxidants, plus a large portion of folic acid.

Heavy impact
“In other words, a world without bees is a world without food and where there is no food people will die,” she adds.
Okello points outs that alongside government, private players in the industry and individual beekeepers can play the role of informing farmers of the relation between bees and yields.

“While it is good for agriculture to go commercial but as we advocate for modern farming methods, which sometimes involve herbicides, insecticides and pesticides, we should promote rational use of chemicals to reduce their damage to bees. Advocating for the conservation of pollinators’ habitats would bring more harvests,” he says.

The decline in bees’ numbers may impact heavily on the provision of nutritionally adequate diets for the human population.
Developing nations like Uganda are at the highest risk because they are already vulnerable to food and nutrient shortages despite having fertile soils and good climate that sustains agriculture.