Shakespeare asked the question hundreds of years ago, but little did he know that in 2016 his question would change to: To bee or not to bee?
This is so, because the world’s bee populations are dying out fast and the human race needs an answer urgently – for their honey pots. Literally.
But also because humans depend on bees: every third bite of food we eat comes as the result of bees and other pollinators and the bee is the one animal on the planet that will either make or break food prices. If the bees can’t be, neither can we.
Major factors threatening honeybees’ health include parasites and pests, pathogens, poor nutrition, and sub-lethal exposure to pesticides.
Namibian beekeeper David ‘Mr Bee’ Smith agrees. He told New Era Weekend a shocking tale of what is happening to the bee population of Namibia and the efforts being made to save them and ultimately the inhabitants of the country.
Smith says the biggest foreboding danger of all facing humans is the loss of the global honeybee population. The consequence of a dying bee population impacts man at the highest levels on our food chain, posing an enormously grave threat to human survival.
Since no other single animal species plays a more significant role in producing the fruits and vegetables that we humans commonly take for granted, yet require near daily to stay alive, the greatest scientist of modern times, Albert Einstein, once prophetically remarked that “Mankind will not survive the honeybees’ disappearance for more than five years.”
Since 2006 beekeepers have been noticing their honeybee populations have been dying off at increasingly rapid rates.
Smith says, as researchers have been scrambling to come up with an accurate explanation and an effective strategy to save the bees and in turn save us homo sapiens from extinction, both harsh winters (in other parts of the world) and drought in southern Africa, have been instrumental in decimating the honeybee population by up to 70 percent in some areas.
He further says a honeybee lives on average 39 days and in winter up to 45 days and the queen can lay up to 2 000 eggs per day. This sounds like mass production, and it is, but what worries Smith most is that Namibians in general have no clue about the vital role honeybees play in providing food for the masses.
“The current severe drought and dry spells since 2012 have become big factors driving both Namibia’s honey yield and bee numbers down, as less rain means fewer flowers available to pollinate. What is scary is that many Namibians and especially children have not been educated about the bee’s role.
“I’m available 24/7 to lecture children at any school about this, but so far interest in the subject has been poor. It is as if we still regard honeybees as dangerous killer bees as they have portrait for decades. I almost daily see Namibians destroying beehives by smoking the bees out, or throwing the hives down with stones.
“This is irresponsible behaviour and as honeybees are a protected species, the perpetrators should be punished by law,” Smith insists.
Honeybee Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), as this loss of bee phenomenon has been called, is currently recognised as one of the most urgent crises worldwide.
Livestock and crop farmers in Namibia have been urged to reseed their fields with eco-friendly crops to develop healthier habitats for increasing the national bee population.
During a visit to his Brakwater plot this week, Smith explained the complex process of how honey bees produce their “own gold,” saying the use of honey is estimated to be date back more than 3 000 years. Honey in pristine condition was discovered in jars in a pharaoh’s tomb in Egypt last year.
Smith says more than 130 fruits and vegetables that make up a nutritious diet are cross-pollinated by honeybees.
“Raising commercial bees for pollination purposes along with wild bees are responsible for pollination of an estimated 80% of all food crops and, therefore, it is sad that we still destroy bee hives. I lost a total of seven hives worth N$2 500 each this year due to vandals that destroy the hives to get to the honey,” explains Smith as he puts on his special protective suit on to demonstrate the art of removing honey from the hives.
Apart from protecting honeybees, he also sells his fresh honey and even uses it for medicinal purposes. “I have a long waiting list of customers who want fresh, undiluted honey. Some importers of honey dilute their products with glucose and the watery honey can easily be spotted in jars on the shop shelves,” says the man, who has studied and kept bees for the past 15 years.
He says he also has clients from as far as Oshakati, who use this fresh honey to especially relieve asthma symptoms. The medicinal properties of honey have been long known to mankind and was widely used for many ailments by ancient Egyptians thousands of years ago.
It is estimated that in the last half decade alone some 30% of the national bee population has disappeared and nearly a third of all bee colonies have perished.
With so much at stake, efforts to investigate and uncover reasons for this sudden global pandemic have been robust. New studies blame a combination of factors for the mysterious and dramatic loss of honeybees, including increased use of pesticides, shrinking habitats, multiple viruses, poor nutrition and genetics, and even cell phone towers.
Research studies have shown that while honeybees are important and obviously responsible for the multimillion-dollar global honey industry, wild bees are believed to be just as important in the pollination of plants throughout the world.
Bees will not flourish where there exists less opportunity to work their pollen magic, because of a lack of plants. Fields need more types of crops planted that will attract bees year-round. Smith strongly recommends increased collaboration and information sharing between crop growers and beekeepers, as well as government to implement mutually beneficial best practices.
“More research centres designed to learn effective new and innovative methods to facilitate restoration of bee populations throughout the world are sorely needed,” he observes.
He also recommends the implementing of programmes of teaching and training urban residents to become amateur beekeepers. “Educating urban populations about plant diversity in municipal gardens will enhance both bee habitats and bee health. With increasing interest and awareness in the profound importance of nurturing a much larger bee population globally, the progress dividends for both humanity and the planet will prove immeasurable,” he comments.
“I like to share the honey with the people and it is also a little ‘thank you’ that they did not kill the bees, but rather called me to remove them safely,” he concludes.
Smith can be contacted on 081 299 2499 at any time to remove bees.