How agricultural industrialisation threatens organic beekeeping worldwide – the call for political action at the 5th International Organic Beekeeping Conference.
Beekeeping worldwide suffers from rapidly increasing agricultural industrialisation causing various negative impacts on bee health and honey production. Organic beekeepers are particularly affected as it becomes more difficult to find suitable uncultivated or organically farmed land on which to install their bees.
In this context, scientists and beekeepers met at the 5th International Organic Beekeeping Conference at the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart from 1 to 3 March 2019. The event, which was jointly organised by the University of Hohenheim, Naturland and IFOAM Apiculture Forum, gathered more than 300 professional apiarists and hobby beekeepers, scientists, development experts and other beekeeping enthusiasts.
Farming practice needs to become more bee- and insect-friendly. Politicians in Germany, Europe, and around the world must assume responsibility for introducing measures to support farmers’ efforts in this direction.
The participants included over 300 professional apiarists and hobby beekeepers, scientists, development experts and other beekeeping enthusiasts. The event was organised by the University of Hohenheim, the organic association Naturland, and the Apiculture Forum of IFOAM and the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements.
Loss of habitat, the use of pesticides, agricultural genetic engineering, monocultures, new parasites, the effects of the climate crisis – there are multiple factors contributing to the decline in the number of bees. At the same time, human beings are hugely dependent upon the services provided by our ecological systems, a further conclusion arrived at during the conference.
As regards conventional agriculture, a call was made to improve mowing methods and pesticide application techniques. “Whether we are talking about strips of flowering plants, hedgerows, agricultural technology or research, politicians at both a regional and national level in Germany, throughout Europe and the world over, are required to assume responsibility and give all areas of agriculture the support they need in the interest of our society as a whole,” says Steffen Reese, general manager of Naturland.
In many regions, such as the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, the rapid advance of deforestation poses a threat to beekeepers. Here, GMO soya is being cultivated illegally while massive amounts of pesticides are being applied. The bees are no longer able to find food and are being poisoned by pesticides, which are often sprayed by plane. This causes a decline in honey production, which is the most important source of income for Mayan families besides their agricultural enterprises.
Talks given by speakers from Argentina and Ethiopia highlighted the importance of organic beekeeping to sustainable rural development and its contribution to the preservation and protection of important woodland areas throughout the world.
The conference tackled the practical challenges facing organic beekeeping, with a focus on bee health. The main topics here were the quality and purity of beeswax as part of the bee’s organism, and the treatment of varroa destructor, the parasite which plagues bees.
“There is a silver lining on the horizon in the form of lithium compounds which are currently the subject of investigation at the apiary research centre at the University of Hohenheim. However, we do not have a patent remedy so far,” admits Uli Bröker, a Naturland beekeeping expert. “Until we are successful in our attempts to produce a bee that is resistant to varroa as a result of positive selection, we shall just have to manage with our current methods such as the use of organic acids, thermal treatment and brood interruption.”
A further finding of the scientists at the University of Hohenheim is the major role played by invasion pressure from infected neighbouring swarms. Even distances as great as 1.5 km cannot effectively protect a colony from infection by varroa.
By contrast, varroa does not pose a significant threat in Africa or Latin America. The reason for this is that African bees are naturally resistant and bees are kept extensively. In this case, changing forms of land management are the greatest hazard for bees and beekeepers.
“The increasing industrialisation of agriculture in many counties in the southern hemisphere, which is far removed from good farming practice, threatens the existence of millions of non-European beekeepers who depend on beekeeping for their living,” says Manfred Fürst, Naturland’s expert on international beekeeping and co-ordinator of the IFOAM Apiculture Forum.
The treatments available in the form of apitherapy were also discussed at the conference. The discussion covered the quality of products derived from organic beekeeping and the topic of a lack of scientific studies and real-life success stories. Apitherapy holds great potential and could also become an important source of income for beekeepers.