Bees and other pollinating insects play an essential role in ecosystems, with third of all food depending on their pollination. A world without pollinators would be devastating for food production.
Since the late 1990s, beekeepers around the world have observed a sudden disappearance of bees, and reported unusually high rates of decline in honey bee colonies.
In Kenya, bee-killing pesticides in particular pose the most direct risk, with habitat destruction and disease also contributing to their decline.
Bee keeping is well practiced throughout Kenya and local honey is delicious, filled with beneficial enzymes and probiotics that commercial heating processes destroy. The honey varies throughout the year as different tree species flower, each with a unique aroma and flavour. Harvesting this honey however can be extremely problematic, both for bees themselves and for other species.
Kenyan bees are extremely protective over their hives, and have been known to swarm and kill invaders. Traditional beekeepers use fire to smoke out the bees, which can often set trees alight and cause the destruction of huge expanses of forest. If a fire is avoided, the wild bee hive is usually destroyed as everything is taken – including the honeycomb and brood (eggs, larvae and pupae).
Here at Loisaba, we have partnered with Beemagic Limited in order to source honey. Beemagic have developed a design for a hive and method of extraction that not only reduces the risk of fire, but leaves both the brood and the honeycomb for the bees, so they can continue reproducing and making honey in their hive without having to build a new one.
Brood boxes are made first, which are set up on cleverly designed hanging tables to protect them from notorious honey badgers. Once a bee colony has moved in, additional boxes are added for the colony to expand into. When the honey is collected, only these extra boxes are harvested using a method that leaves behind the waxy structure, meaning the bees do not have to waste energy starting from scratch and the bee larvae are protected in the brood box.
As well as providing these hives at Loisaba, Beemagic are working to improve bee-keeping methods across Northern Kenya by proving the training and equipment needed to produce sustainable honey. This puts a value on protecting wildlife habitat, as more trees mean more forage for the bees, resulting in richer honey harvests and a financial incentive for maintaining an ecosystem. Our tourism partner, Elewana Collection, have also partnered with Beemagic by helping to create a market for this organic, raw honey, which in turn provides income for beekeepers in Northern Kenya.
Bees can even be used to help mitigate human-wildlife conflict. “Beehive fences” have been successful in places where elephants and humans co-exist. A study in Kenya by Save the Elephants looked at hives which are positioned around a field of crops. When an approaching elephant disturbs the hives, it aggravates the bees which prompts a hasty retreat. A beekeeping villager not only benefits from honey and pollination services, but protection of their crops, which in turn reduces retaliation killing of elephants.
Follow @BeeMagicKenya on instagram to find out more about their work in Kenya!
By Hannah Campbell