Intensive pesticide use on crops has been blamed for killing bees causing huge honey production losses, a study has shown.
The results were released on Friday in Kigali, during a national policy dialogue on beekeeping value chain in Rwanda.
The study carried out this year, was commissioned by the Future in Our Minds Rwanda (FIOM Rwanda), a local non-governmental organisation.
The research carried out in three districts of Kayonza, Gatsibo and Nyagatare in Eastern Province this year showed that there was de-colonisation of bees due to pesticides and agrochemicals in nearby plantations.
“Beekeepers say that pesticides are the main challenge they face. They wake up [in the morning] and find their beehives are empty because they succumb to their use in crops, or the surviving bees flee the endangered area,” said Euphrem Niyonsaba, the Pro-Bee Project manager while presenting the findings on Friday.
Figures from the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources, as well as the Federation of Beekeepers in Rwanda (FERWACAPI), show that honey production reduced from about 5,000 tonnes in 2016 to 3,500 tonnes in 2017.
It is widely believed to be the cause why Rwanda has failed to tap into the European honey export market which it was granted in 2014. According to Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB), it has even failed to satisfy local demand of 4,500 tonnes.
FERWACAPI president, Jean Damascène Ntaganda, told Sunday Times that bees in about 100,000 beehives countrywide died or fled from pesticides resulting in a drastic reduction in honey produce, especially in the 2016/2018 farming period.
Ignace Bapfaguheka, 45, a bee keeper says that bees in his 30 beehives near Akagera National Park in Ndego Sector, died as some went to forage in nearby maize plantations.
“I used to harvest 180 kilos of honey from 30 hives. That is about Rwf300,000 I lost to pesticides as a kilogramme is sold at Rwf2,000,” he said.
The research findings by FIOM are corroborated by another carried out in November this year by the Rwandan Association for Integrated Development (ARDI) which showed that, because of the pesticide use in crops, over 20 beekeeping cooperatives with over 660 members that the organisation works with in Southern province Rwanda, lost bees in 359 hives in 2016, increasing to 443 hives in 2017 to 613 hives this year, according to ARDI Executive Secretary, Patrice Musabimana.
In general, he said pesticides are responsible for 78 percent of death of bees, while predators account for 8 percent, and diseases contribute 4 percent.
“Through the study, we realised that bees which were within the range of between one and three kilometres from the crop plantations were most affected by the pesticides,” Musabimana observed.
Experts in apiculture say that normally, bees can go foraging to places as far as three kilometres, though it might be up to five kilometres in some cases.
Farmers, government officials as well as the study findings concurred that the death of the bees was aggravated by the high application of pesticides to control fall armyworms –maize-eating insects which were destroying the crop, especially in 2016/2017 farming season.
Musabimana recommended that the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources to assess the toxicity of pesticides and consider those that are less toxic to bees, which farmers should be encouraged to apply in their crops to mitigate the decimation of bees which produce honey and pollinate crops for better yields.
“We are trying to sensitise farmers to close their beehives when pesticides are being applied,” Ntaganda said.
Felix Nyirishema, specialist in charge of Beekeeping and Commercial Insects at MINAGRI said Rwanda targets to increase honey from an average of 5,000 tonnes of honey per year to 8,000 tonnes per year by 2024 under the fourth Strategic Plan for Agriculture Transformation (PSTA4).
“In the meantime, we encourage people to use pesticides during the evening (from 5 pm) because bees forage in the morning and return to their hives in the evening (at twilight),” he said.