Efforts are under way to boost Barbados’ bee and honey production levels and to destigmatise the fear residents have of the natural pollinators.
General Manager at the National Conservation Commission (NCC), Keith Neblett, said Barbados was the second country in the Caribbean to establish an apiary lab geared at detecting diseases among the island’s bee population and to determine the extent of the Africanisation of the bees.
He explained that the apiary lab was established at the NCC with assistance from the Department of Agriculture in Florida, which donated the equipment being used and provided training for NCC and Ministry of Agriculture staff.
“When we speak of food security it is important that bees survive. Food production all over the world is dependent on bees, and the honey bees are the only managed pollinators,” he said.
Mr. Neblett said 60 per cent of honey imported in the Caribbean came to Barbados. “That means that a lot of countries are doing a lot more in establishing bee hives…and we need to do a lot more,” he emphasised.
He added that in 2015, the value of honey imported to the Caribbean amounted to US$1/2 million, with Barbados importing over 120, 000 kilogrammes from 2015 to 2016.
Noting that the NCC had seven bee hives in its apiary that was established four years ago, Mr. Neblett said the Commission was working closely with the Ministry of Agriculture and the Barbados Agricultural Society to get more people involved in the rearing of bees.
However, he said that in addition to the fear people had of bees, the pollinators were also affected by diseases and suffered a serious decline 10 to 12 years ago. “The establishment of the lab would be important primarily to the Ministry of Agriculture because a lot of tests could be done here,” he said.
The General Manager explained that the lab would be able to detect diseases that impact bees which were very sensitive to various chemicals, particularly those used to control the mosquito population.
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Bee Keeper at the NCC, David Small, said the lab was important for the breeding of bees, as well as to test to see if they were African or European bees in hives. Explaining that African bees were defensive, while European bees were docile, he said: “You need to cut out the African bees out of the population.”
Noting that there was still a general fear of bees on the island, particularly following the death of a man last year, Mr. Small stressed, however, that they were helpful as they assisted with food production.
David Westervelt, Trainer with the Department of Agriculture in Florida, said the apiary lab at the NCC would allow for the sampling of honey bees through FABIS (Fast African Bee Identification System). He pointed out that FABIS was a field test that could be done within 15 to 30 minutes, where 10 bees could be analysed to determine whether or not they were Africanised.
There are presently 40 registered bee keepers in Barbados, but there are more persons involved in the industry.