A Miserable Summer for Lebanese Bees
By: Rameh Hamieh
Published Saturday, August 4, 2012
Beekeepers in the Bekaa Valley are struggling to keep their bees alive and there is no chance of a honey harvest this year. The distinctive Bekaa honey will reach zero productivity this season.
Several problems conglomerated to cause this: from a heat wave to limited rainfall in the spring, and finally – the worst problem of all – the spraying of agricultural land and orchards with pesticides, destroying hundreds of hives.
Ministry of agriculture officer, Hussein al-Husseini, who is also a beekeeper in the Bekaa, says that these relentless problems have placed an enormous financial burden on farmers and “they cannot be ignored in light of the lack of productivity this season.” He said that in the past, the beekeepers of the Bekaa used to rely on the South and its coast during the winter frost season. However, with the rising problem of insecticides, “most farmers have stopped sending their hives away and now protect them against frost using different methods, such as covering them in plastic or plugging the holes in the hives with straw. In the spring, they send them to the foothills of the western and eastern mountain ranges, which have more than 3,400 species of wild plants, offering plenty of nectar for the bees.”
However, Husseini, who owns about 35 hives, says that the major problem facing beekeepers has been “the complete lack of spring rain,” and that this led to “fewer plants available for bees to feed on. This has caused a reduction in their productivity, and, worse, has hampered reproduction. Each cell is supposed to reproduce another cell, but this year every ten cells have produced only one.”
Because the bees were starving, the beekeepers had to resort to feeding the working hives sugar in an attempt to sustain them. Husseini says that this has been “a great financial burden on the farmers. They now have to feed each hive half a kilogram of sugar every two days. This would mean an average of $500 a month if the farmer owns 40 hives.”
Ahmad al-Shall, a beekeeper in Baalbak, explains that the heat wave that struck the Bekaa a few weeks ago added to the problems they face. He explains that the rise in temperature prevents the bees from leaving their wooden boxes. Instead of feeding on nectar outside, they suck the honey available inside, consuming all the honey they produced.
Beekeepers usually wait patiently for the harvest season at the beginning of autumn. This year, however, it seems that their waiting will be in vain. Shall confirms that “there will be no harvest this year.” There will be “zero productivity, even though we greatly depend on it in the current economic crisis with the demands of the coming autumn season, such as food supplies, diesel and school fees.”
With so few choices left for the beekeepers, the majority of them agree that the ministry of agriculture has to step in quickly to limit the losses, because their livelihoods “are disappearing before their eyes.” They insist that it is possible to work on providing “special bee food, or even to support us [by providing] beehives in the same way they distribute the anti-foulbrood virus medication.”
The problem for farmer Mustafa Dalloul, who owns 120 beehives, is somewhat different. He lost about 80 hives, poisoned when the ministry of agriculture sprayed insecticide against the Sunn pest on April 19 in the Hosh Bay plains. A ministry officer went to inspect them and found that “they had been poisoned and destroyed, the worker bees dying two days after the spraying operation. The loss has been estimated at $15,000, not a cent of which has been paid to this day,” he says.
It is worth noting that the Bekaa beekeepers have never received the compensation they are owed for the July 2006 war, when they lost about 6,000 hives out of an original 11,000.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.