Nature India | Indigenus

Honey bees starve in COVID-19 lockdown

Bee farmers are finding it hard to move their bee boxes from one place to another across India. This means their bees can not be fed as usual on seasonal flowers, neither will they pollinate this summer, writes Gopinathan Maheswaran of the Zoological Survey of India, in this guest post.

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Across the world, honey bees are the most commonly used pollinators.

In India, more than 9698 government-registered entities – individuals, societies, firms, companies and a few self-help groups – depend on beekeeping for their livelihood. A massive 15, 59, 771 registered bee colonies are spread across various states of India. However, the bee keeping business has its own challenges, especially in cases where farmers depend only on bees as the single source of pollination. Often the health of these colonies suffers from poor nutrition, pests and diseases.

The COVID-19 lockdown has presented a peculiar problem for the beekeepers and the bees. As countries go into extended lockdowns, movement of non-essential vehicles has come to a standstill. In India, the restrictions have made it difficult for the farmers to move the huge number of beehive boxes from one state to another or even within the states. As a result, the bees are starving to death.

During the summer months between February and July, farmers, especially in northern India, go from one state to the other with their bee boxes to feed the bees (Apis indica) on seasonal flowers of mango and litchi trees. Bees feed on the flower honey for nutrition and farmers sell the honey the insects store in their hives. The bees also help pollinate the mango and litchi trees, thereby increasing the production of these two cash fruit crops, and also a variety of other plants.

Farmers in Canada have reported struggling to get their shipment of beehives from aboard. Global food production, which depends a lot on bee pollination, is estimated to get affected due to COVID-19 lockdowns in various countries as without bees the yields of some fruit, seed and nut crops are known to decrease by more than 90 per cent.

This may impact poor and developing countries in the coming years as truncated food supply may result in hiking prices of many essential commodities beyond the reach of the poor in Asia and Africa. The lockdowns also hamper assessment of the damage by researchers, who can not reach the affected areas.

(Gopinathan Maheswaran is a Scientist in the Bird Section of Zoological Survey of India,  Kolkata. He can be reached at maheswaran@zsi.gov.in)

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