Lebanese Bees: Robbed of Their Nectar
By: Amal Khalil
Published Wednesday, July 4, 2012
Beekeepers are facing multiple challenges, from diseased bees to hive theft, as they approach the season for harvesting honey.
The drive to the slopes of Mt. Hermon during these hot summer days is beautiful. The smell of wildflowers, oak, thistle, and juniper, and the fragrance wafting from cherry, plum, and apple orchards make it a glorious trip.
The colors of the seasons look like a landscape painting, with the gold of the wheat ready to be harvested, the green of the oak leaves, and the red of the cherries. The herb and grain farmers will begin to harvest now, and the beekeepers will soon begin their honey collecting, putting all the blessings of nature in their little glass jars.
The Ain Tetna farm looks like a beehive. It belongs to the town of al-Khilwat in Hasbaya, on the slopes of Mt. Hermon. The area is situated among fields, orchards and woods. The locals have turned it into a friendly home for bees, who live there and buzz about its every corner, all the way to the top of the mountain.
One of the locals is Tarek Abu Faour, who has dedicated his life to beekeeping and to developing this sector since he was a teenager. He is known as the “Sheikh of the Beekeepers” in this area. He was elected as the president of the Beekeepers’ Club in the South and acts as its representative at the Ministry of Agriculture.
The sheikh and his beekeeping friends in the area make full use of the blessings they have received by virtue of being so close to Mt. Hermon.
At the bottom of the mountain, Abu Faour knows exactly which hives belong to him. There are armies of bees feeding on rare plants — some of which cannot be found elsewhere — and producing high quality honey.
One of these wild plants, which grows up to two meters high, is classified as a medicinal herb. It helps in cases of general fatigue and is used as an effective tonic for the body and as an aphrodisiac. It is also used as a remedy for asthma and whooping cough.
According to one study, the beekeepers rely on 2,700 varieties of plants to feed their bees. Among those are 500 nectar-producing plants, a source for honey production.
Last year there were three honey collections, when usually there are only two, in what is known as a “honey glut.” Abu Faour harvested tons of coastal spring blossom as well as summer and mountain blossoms.
However, this natural resource is under threat. Abu Faour points out that this spring the beekeepers lost out because of the harsh winter in Lebanon which led to the loss of hundreds of hives.
There is also the threat of incipient diseases striking bees. The area’s struggle with disease began with the Israeli occupation three decades ago. In 1984, diseases were recorded that had never been known before. They were caused by Israel bringing bees from the occupied territories, which led to the death of 90 percent of local bees.
Currently, the bees are suffering from the Varroa disease, caused by Jacobson Varroa mites which attack the larvae and feed on their blood, causing them to be born deficient and disfigured, without wings.
However, the most common disease is foulbrood, in both its American and European forms, and most beekeepers’ colonies suffer from it. It is caused by the Paenibacillus virus, which is widespread in nature.
It attacks the larvae in the hive and destroys them within ten days. Within a year, a diseased hive can infect others within a five-kilometer radius. While a beekeeper can, with difficulty, save his hives from European foulbrood through prevention and protection, the American type is more dangerous. But both types have no cure so far.
The beekeepers are now trying to protect their hives until it is time for the summer collection at the end of this current season.
The Ministry of Agriculture, through its centers in the area, has distributed a fungicide to fight against the Varroa parasite, as part of its program to support the beekeeping sector and develop it. It has launched a strategic plan to count the beekeepers and set up special committees for them in the ministry.
Stolen Honey in the North
As if the harsh winter this year and its effects on honey harvests was not enough, something even worse is happening to the beekeepers — their means of livelihood is being stolen.
Lately, beehive theft has become widespread. It has affected “a great number of beekeepers in the towns of al-Kobayat, Old Akkar, al-Jurd, and Bazbina,” according to the president of the United Cooperative for the Beekeeping Cooperatives in Akkar, Muhammad al-Khatib.
Recently, he lost some of his hives outside the town of Mumne. He lodged a complaint at the police station at Beino. But he expects the investigation will lead nowhere, because “so far no one has been arrested,” despite scores of complaints before the public prosecutor in the North.
He therefore calls on “the ministers of agriculture and interior, the security forces and the relevant official authorities to work on ending the phenomenon of hive stealing, which is now prevalent because thieves have made it their business to carry out this destructive work.”
Khatib considers this plea to be “more than urgent, particularly because beekeepers this year suffered serious losses when the bees were struck with American foulbrood.” This infectious disease has no cure apart from large scale burning of hives.
In this context, he makes another plea, this time to “the Ministry of Agriculture to implement strict measures against any beekeeper who does not burn his infected hives. This is because of the harm caused by the infection spreading to other hives.”
Theft and American foulbrood are not even the full extent of their problems. There is also the illegal harvesting of nectar producing plants.
Here, beekeeper Hasan Diab, who comes from Old Akkar, calls on the relevant authorities to take the necessary measures to stop this practice, because these plants are the primary source of nutrition for the bees.
He points to the “law made during the time of the previous Minister of Agriculture, Shawki Fakhoury, which prohibited the trafficking of these plants.” Diab is distressed to see cars “laden with bags of thyme and other plants taken by wholesalers who export them to Gulf countries.”
“Traffickers have cleared the coastal areas of these plants and now it is our turn in the mountain areas,” he says.
In Kobayat, one of the largest beehive owners, Andre al-Hamawi, complains about the use of herbicides which are fatal to enormous numbers of bees. He also objects to the use of the pesticide Lanate, which destroys all kinds of animals which cannot avoid the deadly poison because it is odorless.
However, the most prevalent complaint from all beekeepers is over the ineffectiveness of the drugs used by the Ministry of Agriculture to treat the Varroa disease.
This is, however, denied by Muhammad Taleb, the agriculture ministry official in Akkar, who says: “Some beekeepers do not use these medicines correctly, and this reduces their effectiveness.”
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.