African Blessings Blog

Bumble Beed and Bumbling Humans

Bee Farming

Agricultural farming is an important sector at African Blessings and there is one process that no farmer can do without. It is a little process that no community, country or the world can do without and that is pollination.

We were taught that pollination is the transference of pollen grains from the male anther of a flower to the female stigma of another and this process results in the creation of new life. The goal of every single living organism is to conceive offspring for the next generation. The world was created in such a way that no animal, plant, insect, fish, bird or even drop of water can survive without one another. From my side I sadly have to admit that even those mosquitoes that buzz around my ears at night or the bombardment of pesky flies while cooking that disturb my generally placid demeanour have their purpose too.

In the past the media has mentioned the plight of the honey bee but with social media the awareness has spread in a swarm-like fashion. The US National Research Council warns that bees could be extinct from North America by 2035 – that is only 19 years to go. The main culprit in this devastating turn of events is pesticides and rightly so. We blame the manufacturers and the farmers that are willing to purchase and use these products however I recently came across another human interference which I found rather interesting.

In 1916, during the reign of Tsar Nicholas II, the construction of the trans-Siberian railway was completed. Its purpose was to transport goods between Asia and Europe and Russian beekeepers used this as an advantage to transport their western honeybees into Asiatic honey bee territory. This caused dire consequences to the already 5000 year old beekeeping industry.

The Asiatic honeybee was the host to the Varroa mite which is a blood-sucking parasite closely related to the tick. The bee and mite lived in symbiosis though and the bee evolved in ways of controlling this parasite. The western bees had no resistance to the little scoundrel. For some reason the now infected Russian bees were returned to their home country where the Varroa mite spread like wildfire and in 1953 the first case was identified in the Soviet Union, in the 1960’s in Hong Kong, Philippines, China, India and Japan. With the world becoming ‘smaller’ due to convenient commuting, the bees stowed away to Eastern Europe and South America piggybacking the mites. Last reported, Australia is the only continent free from Varroa.

The invasion of this mite has killed billions upon billions honeybees globally and is a major concern to nightmarish proportions. The mite itself cannot be blamed for the deaths but rather a vehicle for viruses. Like many critters and humans, bees carry lurking viruses which can randomly awaken. The mite will be the carrier of one of the 14 identified honeybee viruses from one to another.

As just a simple layman in the world of entomology, virology or science, I earnestly hope that the mites will not be controlled with pesticide. What a vicious circle.

Is it not sad that in every decline in nature man has multiple fingers in the pie. Very sad.

Will there be more generations of bees to sustain the next generation of man?

‘Responsible for pollinating three quarters of the world’s leading food crops, honeybees provide an essential service to modern agriculture. Yet with colonies collapsing in North America, Western Europe, Brazil, India and China, globally bees are in crisis.’ Elliott Cannell, Co-ordinator of PAN Europe.