Three years ago that Antigua & Barbuda’s bee population appeared to be on the brink of extinction. Farmers expressed concern that a scarcity of bees might result in poor crop yields, because the disappearance of this important insect threatened to leave valuable agricultural fields un-pollinated. Caribarena Antigua offers good news about how this situation has changed through the efforts (including reforestation) by Antigua & Barbuda Beekeepers Cooperative, the Ministry of Agriculture’s Environment Division, and other entities. Here are excerpts with a link to the full article below:
The production of local honey fell to alarmingly low levels, and the Antigua & Barbuda Beekeepers Cooperative Society Ltd, under the leadership of president Alvin Langlais, launched a vigorous public education campaign aimed at halting the rapid decline in numbers. Today, after several years of sustained effort by the nation’s apiarists, an ebullient Langlais happily announced the end of the bee population crisis, as beekeepers are now harvesting locally produced honey from bustling hives. [. . .]
Agricultural and environmental officials were at first baffled by the catastrophic decline in the number of functioning hives, both domesticated and wild. The root of the problem was exposed in 2004, when officials observed that hives were widely infested with the incursive Varroa mite, a parasitical insect that negatively affects the reproductive processes of bees. Infestation causes the young of the hive to under-develop, and consequently to be unable to function effectively. Without intervention, this could lead to the death of the hive.
Astute apiarists, as beekeepers are officially called, observed that within the local population was a strain of Varroa-resistant bees. This was distinguished from other bees by its genetic tendency to groom itself more frequently and more diligently than the average bee, a tendency that these “self-grooming” bees passed on to their offspring. The stage was therefore set for a form of genetic warfare designed to save the local bee population by encouraging the propagation of more Varroa-resistant bees.
Launching a vigorous island-wide educational campaign, the [Antigua & Barbuda] Beekeepers Cooperative sought, with apparent success, to encourage appropriate beekeeping practices. The key to encouraging the proliferation of Varroa-resistant bees lies in the proper construction and diligent cleaning of hives. In summary, the insertion of a fine wire-mesh screen near the bottom of a hive means that mites removed by “self-grooming” bees fall through the mesh to a removable panel. Diligent beekeepers will, at frequent intervals, remove and clean that panel, thus preventing ejected mites from re-infesting healthy bees. The Beekeepers Cooperative Society’s success in propagating these “best practices” among apiarists has led in recent times to a massive resurgence in the local bee population, domesticated as well as wild. [. . .]
In the meantime, the Beekeepers Cooperative has partnered with the Ministry of Agriculture’s Environment Division to propagate flowering trees. From a one-acre plot in the Body Ponds Reclamation Project, the Society has embarked on a programme to foster logwood and jar-plum trees that will be used to re-forest the Body Ponds area. These flowering trees will serve the dual purpose of providing food from which bees will produce honey, as well as retarding soil erosion and improving the watershed area. [. . .]