Bees & Natural Beekeeping

An increasing demand for healthy bee species (Apis Mellifera, Apis Dorsata, Apis Cerana, Apis Florea) comes at a time when beekeepers across the world are confronting the most serious challenges the industry has ever faced in previous decades; the Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). A steady supply of healthy colonies cannot be guaranteed any longer as a combination of parasitic mites and viruses. The rigors of migratory beekeeping and massive use of pesticides continue to cause significant die-offs and contribute to the bee colony collapse disorder. A weakened beekeeping industry affects not only beekeepers but also growers and consumers who pay higher prices for fewer goods.

ROLE OF HONEY BEES IN AGRICULTURE

Many fruit, nut, vegetable, legume and seed crops heavily depend on pollination provided both by wild, free-living organisms (primarily bees) and by commercially managed honey bees. Honey bees and bumble bees are the most predominant and economical group of pollinators in most geographical regions. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has estimated that out of 100 crop species which provide 90% of food worldwide, 71% of these are bee-pollinated

During the last 50-year period, agricultural production independent from insect pollination has doubled whereas agricultural production requiring insect pollination has increased four-fold, thus indicating that global agriculture has become increasingly pollinator-dependent over the last 50 years. The production value of one ton of pollinator-dependent crop is approximately five times higher than those crop categories that do not depend on them. Both FAO as well as other independent research studies have projected that the global economic value of pollination in agriculture and related services falls in the range of $180-210 billion. $32-40 billion of that total is in the US only, including honey production, apiculture markets and cash-crop yields.

BEE COLONIES WORLDWIDE

Surveys to collect and analyze statistical data on the overall world-wide number of bee colonies, regardless whether they are used for pollination or honey production, have been conducted either by public research institutes funded by Central Governments or by international organizations, e.g. the United Nations FAO or UNEP. Data is not available across all countries but a large majority has been mapped in the last 5-10 years by FAO, entomologists and other research groups.

THE AMERICAS

According to the American Beekeeping Federation (ABF) and recent USDA surveys, the overall number of US honey bee colonies in 2011 was in the range of 2.5-2.6 million. A strong consolidation process has been going on in the last decade due to colony losses and beekeepers running out of business. According to the last available USDA Census, almost 60-65% of the beekeeping farms have less than 10-15 bees colonies and less than 8% more than 1000 colonies each. In Canada, there were roughly 575,000 beehives in 2010 (source: Canadian Honey Council). In the last decade, Central American farmers have started using bees for pollination due to a more global need for food sourcing and FAO Reports show a total number of 2.1 million colonies, of which approximately 1.8 million are located in Mexico.

After 1990, Argentinean beekeeping, traditionally focused on the production of honey for international markets, experienced a period of steep growth, specifically in the Northern provinces. Recent FAO studies and national research group data report a total number of nearly 3 million colonies, with a majority of them used to produce honey and very low average bee keeping. Today, Argentina is the largest exporter of honey in the world and the second largest producer.

In Brazil, the Africanized bee is the pollination insect most largely present in the apiary industry; according to entomologists reports, this species is more resistant to mites however CCD-like effects have been experienced in the last decade as in most of other geographical regions in the world. A realistic estimate by entomologists for the number of colonies is about 2.5 million.

EUROPE AND AFRICA

In the 27 EU countries, the leading apicultural nations are Spain, France, Greece and Italy: not countries in the Mediterranean basin with mild climates. In most of them, the number of colonies has steadily decreased in the last two decades but they retain a substantial role in honey production and crop pollination in the Union. UK entomologists, for instance, have estimated a total of nearly 270,000 honey bees colonies actively used for pollination purposes and honey production in the UK, with consistent colony die-offs of 25-35% reported from 2007 onward.

At a European level, including Russia and former USSR Republics, FAO estimates tells us of approximately 29 million honey bees colonies.

Africa has a high potential for natural beekeeping; climate and forestry are favorable for a majority of the countries (with exceptions to the ones in the Saharan subcontinent). The business itself does not require massive investment and the beekeeping culture and practices are easy to teach and learn. Even in these developing countries FAO and local entomologists have recently reported losses of up to 25-30% of the colonies (especially in the Nile valley, in Egypt and Sudan). 2010 reports take the continental managed colonies to a total of nearly 16 million, with still a great potential for growth.

ASIA AND OCEANIA

China and India have both a century-long tradition of bee keeping. In the recent past India has witnessed a revival of the organic beekeeping industry in the rich forest regions along the sub-Himalayan mountain ranges and the Western Ghats. In India, recent estimates of bee colonies are nearly 10 million, of which the large majority for honey production purposes. According to FAO, China is the fastest growing country in the Far East for honey production and has almost reached the 9 million mark of bee colonies in 2009,. Reports describing the increasing impact of CCD problems on traditional farming and natural beekeeping industry have become a serious concern for many local governments.