Juliana Jaramillo

Healthy Hives, Healthy Humans

The first annual UN World Bee Day (20 May 2018) will celebrate the vital role bees and other pollinators play in maintaining food security. It is wonderful to see global attention focused on the important issue of bee health. Here, we share the successful outcomes of our recent work to promote honey bee health in Latin America.

Bees play a vital role in pollinating plants, including the fruits, vegetables and nuts we rely on for our food. But honey bees are under pressure from pests and diseases, changing weather patterns, inappropriate beekeeping and agricultural practices, and environmental degradation. At the same time, wild bees are suffering from changes in landscape structures affecting their foraging and nesting habitats. Joint research and collective action are required to address the myriad challenges bees currently face.

The Bayer Bee Care Program approaches the issues in novel ways, by applying scientific rigour and ensuring that pollinator protection receives public attention. We believe the key is scientific collaboration and the contributions of experts, especially linking research with the activities of beekeepers and farmers. By working together with local institutions, we can create tailor-made solutions to meet the specific needs of communities, countries and regions.

We initiated the forerunner of the Healthy Hives 2020 LATAM program in 2014. This was a fact-finding study to discover the current status of honey bee health in central Chile, working with the Fraunhofer Chile Research Foundation. Chilean farmers grow a range of crops that rely on pollinators, including almonds, avocados and cherries. In fact, between 70 and 90 percent of Chile’s fruit harvest depends on the flowers being pollinated by bees. But, until recently, little was known about the health of the local honey bees, let alone how this relates to crop pollination and yields.

Juliana Jaramillo
Juliana Jaramillo
Juliana Jaramillo,
Global Scientist Bee Care

The key fact revealed by our monitoring study was that Chilean beekeepers needed to adopt better hive management practices in order to improve the health of their bees. The logical next step was to introduce training courses for local beekeepers, and these have been really well received. The training focuses on making beekeepers aware of the health status of their colonies, and this is done in a very tangible and visual way. Using a diagrammatic ‘full honey tank’, the trainers demonstrate how much honey can be lost as a result of inappropriate beekeeping practices. The class then gets to work, learning about preventive sanitary measures, good beekeeping practices, and integrated management of honey bee pests and diseases. At the end of the training, participants are asked to indicate the volume of honey they believe has been gained as a result of adopting improved practices.

The approach – monitoring followed by appropriate, region-specific improvement measures – was so successful that we decided to scale up the project. The extended program aims to target Chile, Colombia, Argentina and Costa Rica. We didn’t need to think long about a partner to help us expand, having found a good match in Fraunhofer Chile.

Local scientists and beekeepers have just started conducting monitoring activities in Colombia, where they are working to identify any sanitary issues affecting the health of the local hives. Activities are progressing well, with 80 apiaries involved in the monitoring phase. Bees are important in Colombia for pollination of local staple crops; including beans, tomatoes and avocados, as well as the many fruits that Colombia is famous for. Local beekeepers and scientists have already undergone training in the skills they need to conduct monitoring, data processing and analysis of the results. The intended long-term outcome is to enhance the profitability of the farmers who rely on bee pollination, thereby also strengthening the livelihoods of the beekeepers.

Thus, in addition to adding to our knowledge of honey bee health in Latin America, the project is aiming to make an important contribution to the food security and health of local people.

Healthy Hives 2020 Latin America: Objectives

  • Establish a network of Latin American researchers, beekeepers and farmers to share experiences and generate new knowledge about beekeeping.
  • Develop a work program in four countries to identify the main factors that influence the health and productivity of honey bee populations.
  • Contribute scientific information to help prevent and control honey bee diseases in modern and intensive apicultural production systems to increase the competitiveness of the sector.
  • Propose strategies to improve the sustainability of beekeeping through monitoring, training and collaborative activities.
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