The growing need worldwide for honey could pose a threat to the bee population if worldwide demand is not managed properly. There have been recent reports of massive honeybee losses across the world, which has helped to educate the public about the honeybee and the flower resources the honeybee needs for survival. As the crucial pollinator in agriculture, dwindling bee numbers could have adverse effects on the large demand that is posed worldwide.
The current amount of honey produced worldwide is around two million tonnes a year.
Bees are kept either for honey production or for pollination purposes (or both) and a distinction is made between commercial beekeepers, who manage between 800 and 10 000 beehives, and small scale beekeepers who manages between 100 and 800 hives.
Fedgroup’s Impact Farming has ensured that commercial beekeepers have been able to expand their operations by offering hives to investors. Our partners specialise in offering crucial pollination services to local farmers. This has helped to boost the bee population by offering additional hives for them to colonise.
Two types of bees: critical to hive health
South Africa is home to two sub-species or races of honeybees which are indigenous to the country: Apis mellifera Scutellata (or “African bee”) and Apis mellifera Capensis (or “Cape bee”).
The Cape bee is generally confined to the western and southern Cape regions particularly referred to as the Fynbos region, while the African bee covers the region to the north of this area.
The African bee is an aggressive bee with a hardy strain and capable of producing large crops of honey. Only the queens are fertile; worker bees are infertile when the queen is present. However the worker bees have the ability to lay unfertilised, drone eggs.
Fedgroup’s partner relocate the hives around the country in line with the crop cycle, being careful not to cross the ‘invisible line’ across the country that demarcates the difference between the two species of bees.This is critical for the bee population health because mixing types of bees can result in disease within the bee population.
Bees are swarmed into the hive naturally and help to boost the bee population. For example, when you see orange blossom honey in the shops, you know that the hive has been placed in an orange grove during spring. This gives the honey its distinct flavour and helps to produce the oranges you then buy in-store.
Facts about bees
- A honeybee has two sets of wings used for flight. The wing hooks enable the bee to attach one of each set of wings together during flight for maximum efficiency.
- Honeybees communicate by performing a series of dance moves. Through the number of turns, duration of the dance and the moves themselves, they can communicate the distance of the food and the direction of the food in relation to the sun.
- Some crops like sunflowers or subtropical fruit are important forage resources for managed honeybee colonies and beekeepers often trap wild swarms in these regions. Managed honeybees can abscond from hives to become wild again, and therefore the wild and managed honeybees are all related.
- Honeybees forage on nectar (carbohydrates) and pollen (protein) of flowering plants, and they require a large diversity of pollen and nectar from different plant sources to be healthy.
- The honeybee lifecycle includes egg, larva, pupa and adult stages.
- Honeybee colonies comprise of a single mated queen and 10 000 to 50 000 of her worker daughters.
- Diploid eggs are fertilised and produce female offspring (workers and queens), while unfertilised, haploid eggs develop as males (drones).
- The average lifespan of a queen is three to four years while drones usually die upon mating or are expelled from the hive before the winter.
- Workers may live for a few weeks in the summer and several months in areas with an extended winter.
- The African honeybee is an important pollinator of flowering plants, including many of our thorn trees.
- Honeybees are used to pollinate about 50 crops across South Africa, including sunflower seeds and subtropical fruit found in the northern region of South Africa.