If there is one food that can be kept for as long as one desires without it ever getting spoilt, it is honey. It holds that record as of today, according to the experts. The use of honey cuts across all the races on earth. Developed countries are encouraging their citizens to take to using honey as a sweetener above all other sweeteners available.
The reason is not farfetched; it has excellent health benefits. The world knows the health benefits of honey, and there is therefore a huge demand for the commodity. This demand creates business and as such is a very profitable venture. The world population is increasing, according to statistics, and so is the demand for honey.
Having gone through the above, the question one must ask now is what is the situation of things in the honey industry? Are we sure of a steady supply of honey that will meet up with the demands of the day? Is it well with the industry? A look at the current state of things in the industry will act as a pointer to answer the questions that have been asked thus far. Let us take a look at trends in the industry as they affect Ethiopia, a country reputed for honey production.
|Trend of colony population/ by absconding|
Looking at the table above, it can be clearly seen that the major source of feed is through foraging, which covers as much as 94% of the total amount. The type of feed determines the success of bee keeping. When 94% depend on foraging for their source of feed for their bee, the output can easily be predicted from the onset. When input by the bee farmer is much and little is gotten in terms of output, the farmers will definitely be discouraged, and they tend to look for other ventures that will be more profitable.
|Reason for not Extracting honey (n=97)||%||Reason for not collecting Beeswax (n=97)||%|
|Amount of honey will be reduced||55.0||Lack of knowledge||77.7|
|Lack of material||24.5||Lack of processing skills||12.0|
|Lack of knowledge||20.5||Lack of market||5.3|
|Lack of processing material||5.0|
The study of eastern Ethiopia reveals a lot, according to the above table. Why are bee farmers leaving the vocation? The above table is an eye opener. The fact that the amount of honey is reduced accounts for 55% of the farmers leaving the bee hive industry. In addition, 24.5% of the farmers have left because they lack standard materials. The above statistics also go to show that some of these farmers are no longer extracting honey because they lack the basics of the profession.
What about the collection of beeswax? 77% of farmers are into their present predicament because they lack the knowledge of the trade. The indicators say it all. The picture painted, as shown in the tables above, points to one direction- danger in the sector. Yet, the demand for honey is increasing with each day. The usefulness of honey as a food, in the medical field and pharmaceutical industries to mention a few of the areas where honey has proved to be useful, goes to show that a better approach is compulsory. The only viable solution is edited honey.
PROBLEMS IN THE HONEY INDUSTRY
There is a loss in the honey bee colony. This loses can be attributed to a number of factors:
- The chief cause is parasites, especially the Varroa destructor mite, and the Nosema ceranae fungus. They are capable of weakening the immune system of bees and cultivating viral growth. When left untreated, it results in colony death within three years.
- The veterinary medicines necessary to combat varroasis and other appropriate treatments authorized and adapted for bees are not accessible; they are also highly expensive. The absence of these inputs gives a free reign to disease killing the bee colonies.
- There is also the problem of biodiversity loss of any origin with impact on availability and quality of pollen resources.
- Lethal effects (this happens as a result of chronic toxicity of active substances in pesticides) or sub-lethal effects (referring to effects on the immune system or on behavior of bees) of active substances, especially pesticides in the neonicotinoid family (Clothianidin, Thiacloprid, Imidacloprid, Thiamethoxam), phenyl pyrazole (Fipronil), pyrethroids, and active substances such as Chlorpyrifos and Dimethoate. When bees come into contact with these, directly or via contaminated water, droplet guttation, nectar, or pollen, can cause lethal effects. In addition, genetically modified crops, particularly those producing BT toxins, can affect the honeybees’ learning performances, causing sub-lethal effects.
- There is also the issue of electromagnetic fields that may disturb the orientation and navigation of honeybees.
The above factors are some of the problems currently being faced by bee keepers the world over. According to the E U commission report of 28th May 2010, the overall number of bee keepers has increased when compared to the figure obtained in 2004. This is due mainly to the influences of Bulgaria and Romania because they are now members of the E U. Without the inputs from those countries, there will be problems on our hands when it comes to the production of honey.
With the issues itemized above, there is the urgent need to take a bold step to address the issues at hand with a view to encourage the bee keepers and assure them that their efforts will not go down the drain. There are some external factors which need to be addressed as a matter of urgency to ensure that things go on well in the bee keeping sector of the economy:
- The E U recently adopted new, stricter rules on the authorization of plant protection products (pesticides) and their sustainable use. The objective is to ensure that they are safe for human beings, as well as the environment. The rules include additional, strict criteria relating to bee safety-which is very important if we are to sustain the colonies.
- The Commission also calls for the improvement of risk assessment methodology for pesticides to encompass colony health as well as population development with the aim of ensuring full public access to the findings and methodology of ecotoxicological studies of the E U. dossiers.
- A call was made for strong support of a prudent EU legislation and thorough scientific risk assessments as regarding to pesticides. There is a call for the Commission to promote further independent scientific research on the long-term effects of genetically modified crops. The spread of BT toxins via pollen on honeybees, and wild pollinators in general, creates serious concerns by all in the industry.
- Consideration should also be given to chronic, larval, and sub-lethal toxicity, as well as substance-pathogen and substance-substance synergies in the risk assessment of pesticides and in calls for the E U to pay special attention to specific pesticides, such as those of the family of the neonicotinoide family (Clothianidin, Thiacloprid, Imidacloprid, and Thiamethoxam), phenyl-pyrazoles (Fipronil), and pyrethroids.
- There is also the angle of the active substances such as Chlorpyrifos or Dimethoat, as these active substances in pesticides have a proven adverse effect on bees and their colonies’ health; application methods such as seed coating should also be considered.
- A call for the Commission, on the basis of reliable and effective tests under real conditions with harmonized protocols, to consider chronic larval and sub-lethal toxicity in the risk assessment of pesticides, has been laid down in Regulation 1107/2009 EC on the placing on the market of plant protection products, which has been in application since 14 June 2011. There are also calls for the Commission to strengthen research on potential substance-pathogen and substance-substance interactions, notes that all application methods should be considered.
- A recall of the new provisions of Regulation (EC) No 1107/2009 to assess active substances in, and plant protection products as such, is needed, not only with regard to their acute effects, but also with regard to their chronic effects on colony survival and development, taking into account effects on honeybee larvae and honeybee behavior.
- In considering the above points, adequate testing protocols still need to be developed, and the new provisions will only be applied subject to the approval of new substances or the renewal of existing approvals as well as to the authorization of new plant protection products or their renewal, so that existing approvals/authorizations will not be assessed in an appropriate manner for many years to come, unless specifically reviewed.
The resolutions as passed above are good. It is no doubt a good academic delivery aimed at addressing the critical issues that bother the bee industry. But the question still arises: Where are the bees? All the points mentioned above are workable on the condition that there are more bees, without which there would be no honey. This therefore leads us to the issue of edited bees. Without coming out with a proper blueprint aimed at boosting the supply of bees, the problem in the sector will still remain with us.
Let us go back again to the situation in Ethiopia with emphasis on the Haramaya, where the efforts of the bee farmers yields very little at the end of each harvest of the honey comb. The statistics will shock you. Carefully take a look at the table below presented unedited:
|Non-beekeeping Economic activities|
|Kebe/villages||Crop||Crop and livestock||Trade||Crop and trade||All||Total|
|Misuse of pesticides||17||17.5|
|Lack of bee forage||6||6.2|
|“Hamma” (honey badger)||1||1.0|
|Insecticide, birds, and diseases||27||27.8|
|Insecticides and pesticides||3||3.1|
|Insecticides and lack of bee forage||5||5.2|
|Insecticides and dry spells||2||2.1|
|Birds and pesticides||1||1.0|
|Pesticides and lack of bee forage||9||9.3|
|Insecticides, birds, and pesticides||12||12.4|
|Insecticides, birds, and “Hamma” (honey badger),||1||1.0|
|Insecticides, pesticides and dry spells||2||2.1|
BENEFITS OF HONEY
The above table says it all. The benefits that are derivable from honey are very crucial to the total wellbeing of humanity; any shortfall in supply will definitely affect you and me. The use of honey dates back to some 8000 years ago, as depicted by Stone Age paintings. Perhaps it will help if we consider some of these benefits so as to get a clearer understanding of the reasons why we should not toy with the steady supply of honey:
- Over the years, honey has been useful as food, and to this day it holds the record as the only food that does not spoil. It is commonly used in cooking and baking, especially in desserts. Further, it is used as an addition to various beverages. When we talk of sauces, honey readily comes into the picture because of its use in honey barbecue, honey mustard, and many other common flavors that you can think of.
- Considering the huge area mentioned above, it can be clearly seen that honey is key to our total wellbeing. Going further, honey is also very vital when it comes to fermentation. The world’s oldest fermented beverage (mead, or honey wine, which is made with the input of honey) dates back to over 3000 years ago. Mead varieties have been developed into commercial products that number into the hundreds in the U S as of the year 2014. Considering the production of beer, there is mead beer popularly called “bragot.”
- In the field of medicine, honey has found many uses as well. It is medically used in treating wounds and burns. In the treatment of cough, honey is the best remedy over all others, especially for the treatment in children. Honey is used in treating diabetes. It is used as a food preservative and a prebiotic. Honey is also an excellent source of carbohydrates. There are many more uses of honey in the medical field.
There is the urgent need for improvement in the honey production, as well as the health of hives, which should be significantly improved by following the lead of the livestock industry. The use of modern genetic techniques to select queen bee breeders – like those already used in the livestock industries – could increase average hive production by around 1kg/year indefinitely. This research has determined that both honey production and hygienic behavior can be inherited by queens’ offspring, and there’s potential to measure other traits such as temperament and hive over-wintering weight.
‘It is important to realize there are other factors that can influence overall production, such as location of the hives and the length of the season, so the collection of data needs to be done properly. The next step is for queen breeders to start collecting performance data and have it analyzed to identify queens with the best genes, so they can be used as parents of the next generation. Further R&D is required to determine a system that ensures consistency between breeders in the way records are kept, to allow greater comparison of different lines, and industry will then need to agree to an approach to putting such a system in place
The only viable option to address the problems in the production of honey is through edited honey. In doing that, emphasis should be on queen bee genetics. If we get it right in that regard, then the steady supply of honey will be guaranteed. If this is guaranteed, then the availability of super medicines with the input of honey will be sustained. The price of such medicines will also be reduced to be barest minimum. The use of honey as a food and a seasoning will also be positively affected in like manner.
The honey industry is currently troubled, but with queen bee genetics, there will be a sigh of relief in the honey industry.
Image from flickr by Tomaz Stolfa