Honey production to boost economy

Increased pollination through improved bee stocks will be a big benefit to Uganda’s economy

Honey production is steadily declining in places like Europe and the United States, the result of pest invasions. In the United States, honey-producing colonies have declined from their peak in the 1950s at 5.5 million colonies to 2.4 million colonies in 2009.

This has further-reaching consequences. Honeybees are the world’s main pollinators. They inadvertently increase crop yields by up to 30 percent as they move from plant to plant collecting pollen and nectar. Worldwide, pollinators increase all human food production by 9.5 percent, worth an estimated $210 billion.

The value of pollination to food production relates directly to improved food security and commodity markets. Coffee, for instance, benefits from a 30 percent increase in crop yields due to pollinators. Coffee production in Uganda for 2010-‘11 was 3.15 million kg, worth an estimated $454 million.

According to Apollo Kamugisha, the principal development officer of the Uganda Coffee Development Authority, “Pollination is very important. Robusta coffee variety that accounts for 80 percent of coffee production is reliant on pollinators for production.”

However, “very few coffee producers invest in beekeeping, despite the fact that improved pollination would be worth an estimated $136 million to the Ugandan economy.

Pollination of food crops provides the majority of earnings for professional beekeepers in the United States and they provide large-scale transportation of colonies over large distances to provide pollination.

The growing demand for pollinators in an effort to increase food production, as is the case in Uganda with its rising population, will cause a rise in market prices for professional pollinators.

The keeping of bees – called apiculture – is economically lucrative for a small- to medium-scale enterprises involved in integrated farming. Eighty-five percent of Uganda lives in a rural setting and 82.3 percent of this population is involved in agriculture. Apiculture is beneficial to the subsistence or smallholder farmers and suitable for the rural poor in Uganda, who have high population density and financial incapability to purchase land.

There are also social benefits, as bees create highly nutritious product with medicinal efficacy. This includes secondary beehive products such as propolis – a naturally produced antibiotic resin. And because they are low-labour intensive, keeping bees is a possible occupation for Extremely Vulnerable Individuals (EVIs) of both genders.

Environmentally, apiculture is the only agricultural activity that has a positive impact on the environment, with the benefit of increased crop yield pollination.

One major impediment to Ugandan beekeeping is the type of bee that is prevalent in this country. Uganda’s bee variety is Apis mellifera scutellata, which is prevalent throughout the African continent and has spread through Europe. Unlike the European bee, the African bee is behaviorally of another nature.

The African bee is aggressive in nature. Because it is highly defensive it lacks productivity. The reason for this nature has been identified as a response to larger, more aggressive predators, like the honey badger or man, itself. Through the practice of honey hunting, men will come in the night and burn and kill bee colonies in order to harvest honey.

As a result, behaviorally calm and productive bee colonies have been killed off over time, leaving the aggressive strain that survives today.

Improving apiculture practices will involve modern training, combined with improved commercial bee stocks and a focus on increased agricultural production through pollination of food crops. The result will be an increased market supply. That could lead to a drop in food prices, which is good news for everyone – whether or not you have a sweet tooth.

By Simon Turner