Let’s save the bees, to save the planet!

Posted on Monday, April 17th, 2023

Bee keeping: creating an essential link in earth’s ecology and an ecofriendly source of income

By Ganga Kariyawasam (Manager, Reporting and Quality Assurance of SLRCS)

KURUNEGALA DISTRICT, WESTERN PROVINCE, SRI LANKA – Pollination is an essential factor for the existence of life, and is critical in increasing the number of most plant species on Earth. Moreover, more than 75% of the 115 leading crop species worldwide are dependent on or at least benefit from animal pollination, whereas wind and self-pollination are sufficient for only 28 crop species. Thereby, animal pollination improves the yield of most crop species and contributes to an estimated 35% of global crop production (Klein at el, 2007).
The ecosystem service of pollination is at risk due to extensive and ongoing loss, alteration, and fragmentation of habitats, as well as pesticide use, which all contribute to pollinator declines. Honey bees function as the main animal pollinators, while many other insects – including beetles, flies, butterflies, and moths too pollinate plants.

About 25,000 bee species globally are the major pollinators of flowering plants (Michener, 2007) and essential ecological keystone species contributing to the integrity of most terrestrial ecosystems (Michael et al., 2012). Numerous studies have demonstrated their economic value to agricultural (Klein et al., 2007; Allsopp et al., 2008) and to natural ecosystems (Kearns et al., 1998). Aizen et al. (2009) show that pollination shortage will intensify demand for agricultural land, a trend that will be more pronounced in the developing world potentially leading to decreased food security and increasing pressure on supply of agricultural land (Michael et al., 2012).

Bees spend most of their life collecting pollen, a source of protein that they use to feed their offspring. Each time they fly off to another flower, they leave some pollen on the female part of the flower, thus pollinating it and helping the plant produce seeds.
Within this background, the Climate Resilient Integrated Water Management Project (CRIWMP) introduced bee keeping to the farmers in Kurunegala District with two objectives: to introduce and/or increase pollinators in the ecosystem and to initiate an alternative livelihood to the farmers impacted by the adverse effects of climate change. As a result, 48 bee colonies were introduced to 48 farmers in Galgamuwa, Ehetuwewa and Polpithigama Divisional Secretariat areas, along with training.

Bee keeping (or agriculture), is the science and the art of keeping bees, mostly honey bees in the genus Apis. A beekeeper (or apiarist) maintains bee colonies, usually in man-made hives, in order to collect their honey and other products that the hive produces. This occupation, that dates back to 9,000 years ago, has traditionally been engaged in for bee honey. In the modern era, bee keeping is more often done for supplementary products other than honey, such as beeswax, propolis, flower pollen, bee pollen, and royal jelly, and also for crop pollination and to produce bees for sale to other bee keepers.

Bee keeping needs no large investment and practically, takes up no space on the farm; a bee box with a colony is enough to start up. While bee keeping is an agricultural business, many people carry out small beekeeping operations as a hobby.
Wimalawathie Menike, a woman farmer in Ihala Thimbiriyawa, Moragollagama is keeping bees to serve both purposes. “I received a bee box from the project in 2019. Now I have two bee boxes. I use the honey extractor received from a previous project to the village, on a sharing basis with the other bee keepers in our village. Once in two to three months, I collect three bottles (of 750ml) from one bee box. I sell a bottle for 2,000 LKR. This is a good self-employment; the only cost is my time spent for honey collection, merely once in two months. There is a big demand not only for bee honey, but also for bee colonies”.

Wimalawathie continued, “I observed more fruits in my land and more harvest in my home garden during the past two years; especially coconut, mango, and lime trees and vegetables, and I believe it is a result of my bee units”.

N.P. Dayarathna in Madadenigama, Ehetuwewa is another ecosystem service provider. He too got a bee box with a colony in the same year from the project and now he has five boxes. “I am doing this as a hobby. As a religious person, I prefer not to collect honey for selling. Occasionally, my son extracts honey, not for selling but to offer to the temple, for family use and we used to give honey free of charge to people who request it for medicinal purposes”.

“I do this since we need to maintain this insect in our environment as a pollinator. Now I observe more fruits in my homestead, especially in coconut trees and coffee plants. It is beneficial to all the people in our village, as I’ve heard that a bee travels around 10km per day to collect pollen,” he further added with a contented smile.

Bee honey is used as a medicine and a nutritious food source. Due to the scarcity in the local market, bee honey attracts a huge demand in the country. As it functions as a source of extra income while it could also be engaged in as a hobby, there is a large potential for bee keeping in Sri Lanka. Beekeeping can be operated all over the island by anyone interested such as housewives, teenagers and elders as a self-employment, with the sale of honey bringing in profits, while our crops, as well as wildflowers, are pollinated giving sustenance and generating further income.

About the CRIWMP or Wew Gam Pubuduwa

The Sri Lanka Red Cross Society works with farmer communities in the dry zone to help them adapt to climate-resilient agriculture. CRIWMP is a seven-year project that began in 2017 with the goal of increasing the resilience of smallholder farmers in Sri Lanka’s Dry Zone to unpredictable climate variability and extreme events.

The Project is funded by a grant from the Green Climate Fund (GCF), with the Government of Sri Lanka also co-financing the Project’s activities. The Ministry of Irrigation is a project implementer, and the United Nations Development Program provides technical assistance (UNDP). Several government agencies carry out project activities and outputs while measuring their impact.