Who will save the bees?

A honey bee pollinating a poppy flower.

Who will save the bees is a question every human should be asking.

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By Bernard Preston

You may have been fortunate to view 50/50 on SABC 2 last Sunday, telling of the most interesting use of beehives to protect and save Kruger’s dwindling giant Mopane trees; elephants destroy them for a variety of reasons and the numbers have dropped alarmingly.

Researchers have started hanging two hives in selected trees and have found that the elephants avoid the bees; their trunks and eyes are particularly vulnerable to any stings.

Though Mopane trees are important for a number of reasons, and certainly worth our efforts to save them, in comparison to the honeybee, they really are small beer. The real value of bees is not their honey, but the pollination service they provide; each hive contains around 50,000 little pollinators that are absolutely vital in the production of one in four mouthfuls that we humans eat.

Albert Einstein once said, “If the bee disappeared off the face of the Earth, man would only have four years left to live.” An exaggeration perhaps but they are absolutely vital to the pollination of a great many foods grown in South Africa from peaches and plums, to sunflowers and pumpkins, and almonds and macadamia nuts; and another thousand that we take for granted. The importance of honeybees is not honey; it’s pollination.

I have written before on the alarming future of honeybees in South Africa. Faced in the Midlands with twin threats of invasion of our hives by Cape bees, and theft, many beekeepers have lost heart and there are few new folk entering the industry, despite the enormous potential rewards, both financial to the beekeeper, to the farmer looking for pollination of his crops and for the fiscus trying to stop the haemorrhage of desperately needed Rands.

Mike Allsopp, senior bee researcher, points out that 75% of the honey sold in SA is now imported, and of an inferior quality; it amounts to about 3500 tonnes per annum, making a not insignificant R100 million dent in our balance of payments. These figures gives us a measure of the decline of beekeeping in SA; and the loss of potential in agriculture. To produce that amount of honey, we would need about an extra 200,000 colonies, he says.

One of the abiding memories of this year’s Witness Garden Show is the number of people who wanted to know if the honey on sale and for display had been mixed with sugar and other contaminants. Two local bottlers have brought the whole industry in the Midlands into serious disrepute. In part, the problem is pure greed and the dishonesty that now characterises our land, but the other side of the coin is that we are simply unable to supply the needs of South Africans’ desire for honey.

As bees and beekeeping decline in South Africa, it will mean that more jobs will be lost in agriculture, as farmers get smaller harvests from under pollination, and the price of food will continue to rise alarmingly as demand rises. Are YOU the solution to this conundrum?

Who will save the bees

Who will save the bees because their pollination is responsible for one in four mouthfuls of the food we eat.

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Bernard Preston books

A family affair by Bernard Preston comes after the trilogy that starts with Frog in my Throat.
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green beans and granadillas Bernard Preston

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Bees workforce in Bernard Preston's garden

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Chickens for free range eggs.

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Residential solar panels at Bernard Preston's home

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Harvesting rainwater to a reservoir in the garden means a steady supply that is unpolluted by environmental toxins.