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Bees; Tool To Increasing Honey, Crop Production

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Dickson Biryomumaisho, an agroforestry expert and executive director of the Uganda National Apiculture Development Organisation (TUNADO), says the equation of increasing agricultural productivity in Uganda excludes an important subject of the formula which is pollinators.

He adds that it should be common knowledge by everyone that for production to take place, both female and male meet.

“To which extent do you then ask yourself how flowering plants reproduce? Different ways exist for flowering plants to get pollinated (fertilised) and these include wind, animals and insects,” Biryomumaisho says.

He says among all existing ways, insects are the most effective pollinators. Insects provide excellent pollination services to more than 70% of the grown food crops globally. That means that of every three different foods you eat, at least two have been pollinated by insects.

“So how many of us have made attempts to keep these tiny creatures for pollination purposes and not looked at them as pests and a nuisance to society. One can still say since wind is always in abundance, it can always do the service. Whereas this is true, in a thick canopy wind will not do much,” Biryomumaisho says.

He adds: “We, therefore, want to drum up a strong warning to Uganda that if insects disappear from the ecosystem, food productivity, nutrition and food security will be greatly compromised. The war of people dying of hunger will be harder for Government to fight than a civil war.”

Already, insect pollinators have tremendously decreased and this is evidenced by increased crop failure even in situations where rain/irrigation, inputs and agronomic practices are perfect. 

“The question then should be, of the insects in the world which one is an effective and efficient pollinator that everyone should strive to conserve and not kill. The answer is the bee,” he says.

Bees are social insects and are easily domesticated. Bees provide essential pollination for flowers that other winged insects cannot do as effectively. Bees collect pollen using a unique technique known as “floral fidelity,” meaning they only collect from one species of flower at a time. This helps plants because it ensures the pollen the bees are carrying will be transported to the stigma, or female reproductive system, of the same plant species.

Biryomumaisho says in addition to crops, the honeybee pollinates many of the plants that serve as habitat and food sources for wildlife across the globe, helping sustain the vigor and diversity of the environment.  Food that is used in feeding livestock, such as soybeans and cotton, also must be pollinated by bees. In this way, bees are essential to the meat industry.

Perhaps, the most noteworthy contribution bees bring to Uganda is their work in coffee. Coffee is Uganda’s top agricultural export commodity and is solely pollinated by honeybees.

According to experts, integration of honeybees in coffee farms increases coffee productivity by 60%.

“Simple way to prove this claim, if you grow coffee try visiting coffee during the flowering time (usually happens for two days). You will be surprised by the number of bees buzzing,” he says. Unfortunately, some coffee farmers spray towards or during that time and they miss out on pollination and consequently productivity.

In the developed world, people have tried different techniques to try and pollinate crops such as using helicopters to spread the pollen but the results have not exceeded the work of bees and hence regarded as the most effective pollinators.

Role of bees in agriculture

– Bees increase food quantity: Bees improve food production of 2 billion small farmers worldwide, helping to ensure food security for the world’s population. Research shows that if pollination is managed well on small diverse farms, with all other factors being equal, crop yields increases significantly by median of 24 percent.

– Bees increase food quality: Foods richest in micro-nutrients such as fruits, vegetables and seeds depend on pollination. If a plant has been well pollinated (received a large amount of pollen), a larger and more uniform fruit will develop. Generally, plants put more of their resources into pollinated fruits, increasing quality and taste.

Unfortunately, as farms become larger, production systems intensify coupled with increased use of agricultural chemicals, honeybee populations decrease and consequently the quality of food we grow. Declining pollination also poses an immediate threat on nutrition. If this trend continues, nutritious crops such as fruits, nuts and many vegetable crops will be substituted increasingly by staple crops.  Additionally, pollination shortage will intensify demand for agricultural land. This increasing pressure on supply of agricultural land ultimately contributes to global environmental change.

What should be done?

Experts in the apiary sector point out that awareness creation to all farmers on the value of pollinators and how they can keep the bees buzzing around the farm year-round. They need to see bees as allies rather than enemies. However, it is only part of the larger job of changing attitudes and practices that value natural processes like pollination – not only in the fields but also in government offices and policies.

“Farmers should without fail keep bees on their farm land. This will not only provide excellent pollination services to increase the crop productivity but also a safety net to diversify food sources (honey) and income when they sell honey and other bee products,” Biryomumaisho says.

As an incentive, the market for bee products is readily available at lucrative prices. This way, we shall together achieve middle income status quickly.

Farmers should create a good habitat for bees in order to ensure pollination. Recommended practices include leaving some areas under natural habitat. Avoid use of agrochemicals and if they must be used, timing matters. One can spray very early in the morning and late in the evening.

At policy level, the Government and development partners should support farming practices that recognise bees and other insects as pollinators.

“We also encourage the population to embrace establishing bee friendly gardens in their compounds and gardens where they plant multipurpose trees and flowers to provide and increase breeding ground for bees,” he says.

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