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The specialist international beekeeping organisation

Bees and forests

No trees - no bees: no honey - no money

Bees and trees are interdependent and have been perfecting their relationship over the last 50 million years or so bringing about pollination and the production of viable seed. Trees do not need bees simply for their own reproduction but for maintenance and regeneration of the whole system within which trees exist. The more species of fruits and seeds generating within an ecosystem the greater its diversity and the richer its life carrying capacity. Trees and bees represent a truly harmonious symbiosis. Rural people can generate income from this symbiosis while at the same time helping to safeguard natural habitats by the sustainable use of bee resources.

However, great changes have taken place over the last 50 years and the overexploitation of forest now threatens the very existence of humankind. Because the value of trees is not fully appreciated trees are often disregarded during the expansion of other agriculture. One of today's greatest challenges is to save and protect forests and find sustainable management systems that provide food and income for future generations. The loss of forest resources will result in the loss of honeybee colonies (as well as other essential pollinators). Borg Svensson (1991) offers the example of the Botar Becho forest in Ethiopia. When logging activities started in 1952 bees started to disappear. At first it was the wild bees using the trees for their homes that vanished as their places to nest vanished, but gradually colonies kept in hives also disappeared. The loss of their food sources meant they couldn't survive. Honey production, once the main cash income of farmers in the area, was almost non-existent by 1988.

Forests worldwide are of priceless ecological value; they prevent soil erosion, control flooding, affect rainfall, store and recycle nutrients, and provide habitats for vast numbers of plant and animal species. Keeping bees is one way of exploiting forests without destroying them. Beekeeping is therefore central to community forestry activities. The trees are essential for the survival and production of bees. Trees provide materials for beehives as well as the parent colonies and herbal materials that aid hive colonisation. Trees protect the colonies from extremes of temperature while the floral diversity within the forest provides a sound basis for a sustainable beekeeping sector.  The bees pollinate the tree flowers helping to regenerate the resource and the involvement of beekeepers in community forestry projects improves people's participation and leads to greater protection of the resource. It is important to understand the multi purpose value of trees and forests if we are to have any hope of conserving existing forests or developing new forest activities. Income from bees may be one of the fastest way to bring profitability from more long term community forest projects.


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