Farmers have been aised to keep bees in order to increase their crop yields and also supplement their personal incomes. This is the aice of an expert entomologist, Dr Eliud Muli, from International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (Icipe), which is based in Nairobi, Kenya, to participants who attended a beekeeping clinic held in Kiteezi, Wakiso District, last month.
He said in order to increase crop yields, farmers should start keeping honey bees for their pollination services.
“There is a general outcry across East Africa, farmers harvest low yields and blame it on poor soils or drought but forget to address the role of pollinators. The trend is not about to change because the number of bees is on the decline, you have to bring them closer to the garden.”
Dr Muli elaborated: “Honey bees offer free pollination services to a wide range of crops. About 85 per cent of crops must be pollinated by bees for them to give fruit. Last year, we did a study on an avocado orchard with two hives and the yield increased by 70 per cent with a significant increase in average fruit weight.”
In the study, many insects other than honey bees visited the flowers but most species were present in low numbers that even if they pollinated the flowers, their influence could be negligible.
Most insects simply robbed the flowers of nectar and carried very little pollen. The only insects that appeared to pollinate the flowers were honey bees, bumble bees and Calliphorid fly.
“Of these, only the honey bees were high in numbers to influence pollination,” explained Dr Muli.
Grow and flourish
A 2012 study by the African Insect Science for Food and Health established that crop pollination by bees increases farm yields to about 70 per cent. While other pollinators tend to be selective, honey bees are found to be generally cross-cutting.
More than 70 per cent of the world’s major crops rely on bee pollination to grow and flourish.
Another study by the Tamil Nadu Agriculture University on the influence of insect pollinators in food production noted that honey bees represent about 81 per cent of insect plant visitors in search for nectar and pollen hence pollinating the plants.
“Bees are crucial in agriculture and the environment on top of providing the much needed extra income for small holder farmers through the sell of honey, wax and other products, farmers need a clearer understanding of the honey bees in boosting food security.” said Kelvin Odoobo, managing director, The Hive, a company that deals in apiculture and beekeeping equipment.
Traditionally, bees visit plants for food, nectar and pollen. This floral fidelity of bees is due to their preference for nectars having sugar content and pollens with higher nutritive values.
Besides getting food, as a result of their visit, bees pollinate a number of crops including coffee, cotton, beans, peas, mango, citrus and avocado, tomatoes, passion fruits, apples, soya beans, water melons and several others.
Farid Karama, country representative, Africa Agribusiness Academy, noted that apart from Africa, farmers in US and Europe have to hire bees for pollination.
This is due to the declining number of bee colonies due to parasites like Varroa mite, disease infection and the dreaded Colony Collapse Disorder. The latter is a yet-to-be-explained phenomenon where bees disappear from their hives.
“Africa is not exceptional these conditions are already here only that awareness is low. Any collapse in bee pollinator services have detrimental effects to the livelihoods of farmers and the population at large thus it is wise to keep bees near the farm as one way of increasing output,” said Karama
According to Odoobo, the economic value of bee pollination in 2009 amounted to $1.3b in east Africa, while in 2012 annual pollination services to crops in Uganda were estimated at about $547m, compared to a total economic crop value of $1.28b.
In the same year, the banana-coffee region in central Uganda produced coffee beans at an estimated $214m. Of this, about 62 per cent ($149m) is attributed to pollination by bees.
SOURCE: Daily Monitor