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WORLD BEE DAY TAKES FLIGHT

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Today marks inaugural World Bee Day—a date designated by the United Nations as a time to remember the importance of bees and for wider society to take concrete action to preserve and protect them.

Global bee populations are under attack on multiple fronts; intensive agriculture, pesticides, pollution, climate change, and disease have all resulted in declining numbers of bees and other pollinators, most notably in the northern hemisphere.

The extinction of bees would not only deprive the world of a species, but could also have severe consequences for entire ecosystems and humankind. A third of all food depends on pollination; meaning bees are critical to ensuring the global food supply chain.

In addition, agricultural plants requiring pollination are an important source of jobs and income for farmers, particularly for smallholder and family farms in developing countries.

‘WE MUST TAKE ACTION’ – UNITED NATIONS
‘Bees play a crucial role in increasing crop yields and promoting food security and nutrition,’ says Carla Mucavi, Director of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). ‘Without them, we could lose a variety of food such as potatoes, pepper, coffee, pumpkins, carrots, apples, almonds, tomatoes, just to name a few.’

‘In short, without bees, [we] cannot achieve a world without hunger. World Bee Day recognises the importance of these tiny helpers and will increase awareness of the need to protect them,’ she says.

The United Nations further argues the protection of bees and other pollinators will significantly contribute to solving problems with global food supply and eliminating hunger. It will also contribute to efforts to halt further loss of biodiversity and degradation of ecosystems, as well as to the objectives of sustainable development defined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

‘World Bee Day presents an opportunity to recognise the role of beekeeping, bees and other pollinators in increasing food security, improving nutrition and fighting hunger as well as in providing key ecosystem services for agriculture.’ – José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director-General
Globally, it’s estimated between US$235 billion and US$577 billion worth of annual global food production relies on direct contributions by pollinators.

In Australia, the honey bee industry has an estimated annual worth of AUD$101million. Thankfully, bee populations have remained mostly free from the devastating Varroa Mite, a crippling disease capable of wiping out bee industries.

ACIAR’S CONTRIBUTION

Mite pests, such as the Varroa variety, are one of the biggest threats facing bee populations around the world. In most countries, the mite’s presence have a significant impact on productivity and production costs. In Australia, the maintenance of effective quarantine strategies against the mites has been a major aim for ACIAR and its work within the region over the last 28 years.

Since 1990, ACIAR has been funding research on these devastating pests with outcomes contributing significantly to a better understanding of the mites and their host conditions.

This work has been summarised in an impact assessment study, covering four projects undertaken in conjunction with industry, government and universities in the Philippines, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, along with the Australian commissioned organisation, CSIRO Entomology.

ACIAR’S BEE-MITE RELATED PROJECTS
1991 – 1994 Improved management for production of honey and pollination of tropical forests by bees
1991 – 1994 Improved methods in the epidemiology and control of mites and other diseases of bees in Papua New Guinea
1995 – 1999 Control of bee mites in Irian Jaya
1995 – 1999 Improved methods for bee development and control of bee mites in Papua New Guinea
2001-2005 Control of bees and bee mites in Indonesia and the Philippines
2007-2010 Control of Asian honeybees in the Solomon Islands
2008 – 2009 Potential economic impacts of the Varroa bee mite on the pollination of major crops in Papua New Guinea
IMPROVING FOOD SECURITY IN UGANDA
As well as biosecurity-themed projects, ACIAR initiatives are also seeking to help smallholder beekeepers in the developing world improve their livelihoods. Most recently, an ACIAR project in Uganda has empowered smallholder beekeepers to produce and sell their honey more effectively through the implementation of innovations platforms.

Run by the World Agroforestry Centre since 2015, the project brings local beekeepers together and encourages them to take a collective approach to common problems they encounter. This has enabled access to high-value markets and subsequently more income, meaning improved livelihoods and food security.

The additional funds have also seen the establishment of the community’s first beehive house. Before joining the project, beekeepers would keep their hives in the forest at a nearby National Park, with many hives stolen or ravaged by wild animals. By centralising the hives in the village, beekeepers are able to closely monitor their hives and increase production yields when harvesting honey.

In its three-year plan, the beekeeping group aims to build more beehive houses and increase its hives to 1500 and establish a honey processing plant capable of producing 22,500 litres every six months. Meeting this target would mean a half-yearly income of UGX 323 million, or AUD$116,000, money that would go a long way to ensuring local food security.

OVER THE HORIZON

As well as past and present bee projects, preliminary research is underway to better understand and overcome the decline of honeybee industries in the Pacific and to take advantage of strong market demand for honey and other bee products.

Market demand was investigated recently by an ACIAR-funded study, Market Value Chain Analysis of Honey Production in PNG, the Solomon Islands and Fiji, highlighting the unrealised potential and current decline of bee keeping in these countries.

The partnerships and resources that underpinned this study are being developed for a new project aiming to improve the management, productivity and profitability of beekeeping in the Pacific. The project hopes to do this by; enhancing pest and disease management, including biosecurity; understanding barriers to and benefits from entry into beekeeping enterprises, with a particular focus on women’s inclusion; and building local capacity to produce and market quality bee products.

The new project will be implemented over the coming months as part of ACIAR’s Livestock Production Systems Research Program.

ACIAR

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