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The specialist international beekeeping organisation

Bee importation

The question of importing bees into developing countries raises important and difficult issues. Importation of bees is rarely the best answer to problems of poor colonisation or productivity, even if importation is affordable which it often isn't.

Most of the world's commercial beekeeping is done with temperate bees of the Italian race of honey bee (Apis mellifera ligustica). These bees do not thrive in tropical conditions and experience with the Africanisation of honey bees in North and South America showed that African bees rapidly outcompete European races in the tropics.  In addition, the importer runs the risk of importing damaging diseases such as Varroa that have spread worldwide with devastating effect. Despite reports of this parasitic mite in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Nigeria, (Bees for Development Journal 46 1997, Bees for Development Journal 68, 2003) African bees are as yet not badly affected by the Varroa mite for reasons that are not yet fully understood. Imported bees can become hybridised with locally adapted bees and the end result may be that all offspring are less suitable for the local environment.

It may be tempting for African beekeepers to try and source African bees from commercial sources in South Africa. However, South African beekeeping has a particular problem of its own, notably the incompatibility of A.m. scutellata with the Cape Honey Bee Apis mellifera capensis. This problem arises when laying worker bees from 'capensis' colonies invade a colony of African honey bees causing its decline and death. Every effort should be made to prevent the spread of Apis mellifera capensis outside of its natural home.

 Importing Apis mellifera honey bees into Asia.

Apis mellifera has been introduced into Asia by beekeepers who consider this bee more suitable for commercial beekeeping than the indigenous hive bee, Apis cerana.  Apis cerana is an unimproved honey bee, a little smaller than Apis mellifera that can appear to be inherently unproductive. However, all the above injunctions against importation apply plus an extra problem.

The diversity of honey bees in Asia far exceeds that of any other part of the world. Study of this rich heritage has barely started. The importation of Apis mellifera can seriously threaten other species of honey bees and stingless bees, potentially reducing indigenous pollinators. It is possible that the introduction of Apis mellifera will cause local extinctions of Apis cerana.

Where honey bees occur naturally they have evolved according to the natural conditions prevailing in that region.  They have evolved ways of surviving in the presence of local pests and predators, according to the types of plants available, and the seasons and climate. Furthermore, flowering plants and honey bees have co-evolved over millions of years, long before mankind was on this earth and we cannot yet know the consequences of replacing a pollinator that is closely adapted to the environment with one that is not. The reduction in biodiversity and potential calamity to pollination and food security for everyone should be not be driven by an individual's need to make a living. It is possible to find and breed productive strains of Apis cerana that will make money.

For the reasons outlined, alien species of bees should not be imported without serious thought for the consequences. If no other option is available, honey bee importation should always be done under the guidance of national Ministry of Agriculture who will be able to advise what imports are permitted. However, on a purely practical level there can be difficult and expensive problems of bee survival in transport and acclimatising into a different environment.

 APIMONDIA RESOLUTIONS CONCERNING THE IMPORTATION OF BEES

 "Apimondia recognises the important role of indigenous honey bees for biodiversity. Therefore we resolve that global transport of Apis (honey bees) into areas containing endemic Apis species be discouraged". Apimondia Congress, Switzerland 1995 (Apimondia is the Federation of World Beekeeping Associations)

"Beekeeping development should be based on local knowledge, technology and resources, and native species. History has proved that the introduction of foreign technology very often fails, whereas the introduction of foreign bees practically always leads to failure. Also, foreign bees may have unknown effects on ecological relationships". Conclusions and Recommendations of the Seminar on Bees and Forest in the Tropics

"Governments must be urged by beekeepers to introduce and enforce legislation to prevent the importation of bees, or used beekeeping equipment, to West Africa". The Banjul Bee Declaration 1991, First West African Bee Research Seminar

"The Conference discourages the importation of bees without full assessment of its impact and requests governments to seek expert advice when formulating policy". Fifth Apiculture in Tropical Climates Conference, Trinidad & Tobago


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