Beekeeping members of COPROMA – a cooperative of honey producers near Akagera National Park, are living in uncertainty after 69 of their hives got decolonised due to pesticide application in nearby maize plantations in Ndago Sector, Kayonza District.
The development has drastically reduced honey production and income of the beekeepers, according to Faustin Turikumana, the president of the cooperative.
“Before the problem, we used to harvest about 1,000 tonnes of honey per season (six months); but now we get about 380 tonnes in one season,” he told Sunday Times.
Overall, the cooperative had 125 modern beehives, and over 200 traditional beehives. It has 39 members six of who are women.
Turikumana said beekeeping was a source of livelihood and had improved the nutrition of the cooperative members. The honey shortage has also seen the price shoot from Rwf3,500 a kilogramme, to about Rwf4,000.
He said the beekeepers are trying to restock their hives, but remain afraid that continued use of pesticides is a major threat to their livelihoods and beekeeping sub-sector in the country.
The issue of bees being killed by pesticides is affecting beekeepers worldwide, according to Rwanda Beekeepers Cooperatives’ Federation (FERWACAPI).
Anselme Nzabonimpa, the President of FERWACAPI, told Sunday Times that this situation has significantly reduced honey production.
“This year , we were expecting to harvest about 5,000 tonnes of honey; but we will get about half of that because many bees have died,” he said.
In 2015, the farmers collected about 4,750 tonnes, which increased to about 5,250 tonnes in 2016, according to Nzabonimpa.
According to information from Rwanda Agriculture Board, the total national demand for honey is about 16,800 tonnes.
Growing food needs, crop diseases are making pesticides use a necessity
Evariste Safari, the head of Rwanda Agriculture Inputs Dealers Association (RAIDA), told Sunday Times that, “currently, the farming we have reached necessitates that farmers use pesticides.”
He said they have biological pesticides which are environmentally friendly, but, observed that they do not have efficacy to kill pests or treat diseases affecting crops in a timely manner.
“The biological pesticides are available, but we have reached a period when we are facing many ‘disasters’ such that it requires us to have effective pesticides which produce immediate results; those are chemical pesticides,” he said, citing that for instance, the biological pesticides cannot be efficient in addressing Nkongwa (armyworm) destroying crops.
The Director-General of Strategic Planning and Programmes Coordination at MINAGRI, Dr Octave Semwaga said, “We just use pesticides because they are the ones which can help us solve the [crop disease] issue. Thinking that you can feed the population which is growing by 3.5 per cent per year by using integrated pest management [without use of pesticides], cannot work.”
“If we get a chance to find good practices which can address the issues of use of pesticides, we can stop that [the use of pesticides] as long as they can enable us to continue feeding those people,” he added.
Cooperation between farmers and beekeepers key
Semwaga, said under the Agriculture Strategy, it is planned that starting from 2018, cooperatives of beekeepers will work with farmers closely.
“Beekeepers will be using modern equipment, and the farmers will be informing them when they apply pesticides so that the former close hives for bees to stay inside. That is the formula, and it is the one used elsewhere,” he said.
On beekeepers’ concerns that modern beehives are expensive for them to afford, Semwaga said the strategy, farmers will be supported to acquire modern hives and skilled with professional practices in apiary.
Semwaga said bees are needed on both ends - for honey, but also for farmers to get bees to pollinate their crops.
He said in some countries, bees are hired from beekeepers to pollinate crops to ensure high crop production margins.
The “Thematic Assessment of Pollinators, Pollination and Food Production”, a two-year study carried out under the auspices of the Inter-governmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), which was released in February 2016, revealed that global crop production with an annual market value of $235 billion–$577 billion in 2015 worldwide, is directly attributable to pollinator species.
The study shows that the vast majority of pollinator species are wild, including more than 20,000 species of bees, some species of flies, butterflies, moths, wasps, beetles, thrips, birds, bats and other vertebrates.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), pollinators such as bees, birds and bats affect 35 percent of the world’s crop production, increasing outputs of 87 of the leading food crops worldwide, as well as many plant-derived medicines.
There are estimated to 83,000 beekeepers in Rwanda (only 45% are active), figures from RAB show.
Modern beehives in the country amount to about 90,000, while some 200,000 are traditional.