Increasing numbers of farmers in the tropics have access to pesticides. However, understandable information about the use and risks of using pesticides is not so easily available.
Farmers want to protect their crops. When they are told that the answer lies with using one or other type of pesticide, they believe it and use it, not knowing that the producer wants to get rid of his stores: sometimes the pesticide is no longer allowed in other countries because it is dangerous.
If pesticides have to be used, they must be applied in the right amount, at the right time, and with sufficient protective clothing for the user.
The misuse of pesticides creates a number of environmental problems such as water pollution, poisoning of the user, or the people eating the sprayed products. The wrong use of a pesticide can also lead to the elimination of beneficial pollinating insects (wild bees and hive bees) and the natural enemies of the pests including predatory insects and birds.
Pesticides that are made for killing harmful insects are called insecticides. Insecticides are especially dangerous for bees. If they are applied in the day, during the flowering period of the crops, they can kill so many bees that the crop fails due to lack of pollination.
How can bee poisoning be avoided?
First of all the beekeeper and the farmer must co-operate. Farmers must be made aware that the bees are of great benefit to them and beekeepers must be informed of what is going on at the farms near where their bees are foraging.
All beekeepers should be able to tell farmers about the pollination work of bees and advise them how to use pesticides in the least harmful way. There are some insecticides available with a repellent smell that means the bees abandon the sprayed flowers instantly: farmers need to know the importance of this. The most useful protection for bees is to avoid spraying flowering crops during the day. Unfortunately some pesticides are poisonous for several days. In this case, if spraying is necessary, the bees should be moved several kilometres away. This is however difficult and disturbs the bees. If it is too difficult to move the bees, they can be confined inside their hives.
To do this it is necessary to prevent the bees in the hives getting too hot. The hives must be covered with wet sacks and inside the hives the bees must be fed with water to help them keep the brood cool. Water must be applied to the sacks on the hives every two hours during the day if the hives are not in the shade. Larger colonies are the most sensitive to the overheating that can lead to rapid death. It is also important to allow plenty of space and give good ventilation to the hive.
In Cape Verde
Most farmers in Cape Verde are unaware of the benefits of pollination by bees. It is necessary to inform them of the importance and potential of beekeeping and pollination from the very beginning. This not only prevents the wrong use of pesticides, but also protects the bees against direct destruction.
When the Ministry of Agriculture tried to transfer honeybees for pollination purposes to islands on Cape Verde other than Santiago the colonies were destroyed by the local people who believed that the bees were pests spoiling the flowers they visited. We hope to be able to provide the correct information by organising meetings and producing posters telling of the benefits of bees and pollination.
Pollination is essential for enhancing crop production: without cross-pollination by bees many crops will not even produce seeds or fruits.
The best way to protect your bees against pesticides is by telling the farmers why we need the bees!
The author described in detail the symptoms of bee poisoning and alternatives to pesticides in Bees for Development Journal 34 (1995).
The need for bees for pollination is seen in the central pages of this issue of B&D
[Bees for Development Journal #60]