The Importance of Honey Bees
Beekeeping In South Africa

Pollinators, in general, provide a wide range of benefits to humans. Our well-being depends heavily on various ecosystems and their functions. To a large extent, pollinators drive and maintain the good health of these ecosystems. Pollination is the transfer of pollen from the male to the female parts of the flower and will result in the forming of the fruit.

Most fruit, seed and berry crops are dependent on insects, especially honeybees, to ensure a fruit or seed set. Honey bees, are regarded as the most important insect pollinator globally.

They are generalist pollinators, this means they visit a wide variety of flowering plants. What also makes them more special than other insect pollinators, is their ability to be managed by beekeepers. They can be kept in hives and moved to better foraging conditions.

The Benefit of Bees

But what is it that honey bees contribute to our wellbeing that makes them so important? And can't we get these benefits from other insect pollinators? Well, research facts suggest the following: Bees sustain populations of wild plants that support most biodiversity and ecosystem functions.

Bees are the most important group of pollinators, visiting more than 90% of the leading 107 global crop types. In South Africa, over 50 crops are dependent on bee pollination. Therefore, bees ensure a reliable and diverse seed and fruit supply through pollination. Linked to this, is the improvement of crop yield and quality through proper pollination.

Data shows that the use of commercial honey bees for pollination improves fruit set, fruit weight and quality. Recently, it's become evident that pollinator-dependent crops are principal sources of many micronutrients, including vitamins A and C, calcium, fluoride and folic acid 10. Bees pollinate most of these crops.

Bees contribute, indirectly, to job creation and employment, both at beekeeping and farm level. This is a huge contribution to food security and poverty alleviation. The sales of honey and other bee-related products (such as propolis and beeswax) enables the generation of income. Bees have also been shown to promote and maintain both traditional and cultural values.

For example, honey offers medicinal benefits relating to but not limited to anti-bacterial and diabetic agents. In countries like China, Egypt, Spain, and Mexico, bees are strongly associated with a sense of heritage, art, music and some level of social relation. In South Africa, early association of honey bees and humans are that of the San Bushmen, they depicted their relationship with bees and honey in their rock art.

The Honey Bee Industry Facts for South Africa

In terms of pollination services offered by beekeepers to the growers, the deciduous fruit industry is the most and well documented. This industry has an annual turnover of more than R13 billion and creates over 180 000 job opportunities (HORTGRO 2016).

The recommended pollination tariff by the Western Cape Bee Industry Association is R802 for 2018, up from R745 in 2017 (WCBA 2018). Honeybee products are estimated to be in the region of R100 million (Allsopp, 2000). The bee industry creates job opportunities for over 3000 people (NAMC Report 2008).

By Dr Tlou Masehela