Researchers from the Bee Health 2020 LatAm project identified aspects that can be improved for a more profitable and environmentally sustainable beekeeping in the Cauca, and trained local producers to encourage good practices.

[November 12th, 2019] Colombia has the environmental and melliferous flora conditions to achieve high beekeeping productivity, favoring the productive sector and the families that make a living from this activity. Joint work among beekeepers, researchers and authorities is key to developing this potential to the fullest.

This is the opinion of researchers from the Bee Health 2020 LatAm project, an initiative that Fraunhofer Chile Research is carrying out together with Unicomfacauca in the Colombian department of Cauca.

In 2018, the project’s researchers monitored 385 beehives in 77 apiaries in Cauca to detect health risks that could be affecting them. Based on the shortcomings identified, in 2019 they carried out practical and theoretical training to about 120 local beekeepers to provide them with strategies to prevent and control these risks, with the aim of improving the health and productivity of their honey bees.

The monitoring included surveys to the beekeepers to know their practices of management of the hives, sanitary situation and honey production of their apiaries and rates of infestation by parasites.

“We have observed that the yields per beehive are low, despite the high productive potential that the department of Cauca and Colombia in general have. This limits the possibilities of having beehives whose investment is profitable,” says Dr. Mayda Verde, the project’s principal investigator.

48.5% of the beekeepers who participated in the monitoring last December estimate that the production of their hives ranges from 1 to 20 kilos per year, while 40.2% estimate their production at 21 to 40 kilos. The 59.2% of them harvest twice a year, and 23.7% only once.

“An apiary of about 25 hives should produce at least 25 kilos of honey per year per hive to be profitable,” says Marnix Doorn, director of the Bee Health 2020 LatAm project.

Sustainable productivity

Among the aspects to improve, the monitoring allowed to detect sanitary, environmental, genetic and beekeeping management problems.

For example, 79% of the beekeepers did not have a warehouse to store their beekeeping supplies, 47% did not disinfect the wooden materials of the hive, 78% did not keep records of their activities and 74% did not renew the queen bee to have a younger one.

In addition, the rates of infestation by the parasite Varroa sp. exceeded the critical threshold of 3% of bees affected by hives in the four monitored zones, ranging from 3.2% in the central zone (Popayán and surroundings) to 7.4% in the south (Mercaderes and surroundings).

During the trainings, beekeepers were given theoretical and practical knowledge to improve these and other detected gaps. In addition, last October, the version of the Beekeeper’s Notebook adapted to Colombia began to be distributed to them free of charge.

This manual, developed by Bee Health 2020 LatAm, allows to keep a record of the apiary activities and provides key recommendations for the management of the hives.

“The abundant biodiversity of the Cauca and the strong association of its beekeepers are strengths that should be promoted. To this end, it is essential to provide beekeepers with technical advice and systematic training in good practices based on science. In this way we can advance towards a professionalization of the beekeeping activity and the consequent productive improvement in a sustainable way”, emphasizes Marnix Doorn.

María Andrea Sanchez, coordinator of Bee Health 2020 LatAm at Unicomfacauca, adds that “adequate training, the organization of the bee production chain and a greater prioritization of this activity by the State will not only improve the health of honey bees and their ecosystem. They will also contribute to increasing the income of the bee production sector and the communities that live off it.”

Proposals to improve bee health in Colombia

In recent years we have begun to see more and more international and local media reports and articles that point to the fact that bees are disappearing. However, there are few studies that reliably document the actual loss of hives or reduction in bee population.

Read more in Mayda Verde’s column in the newspaper La República de Colombia