Western Cape bee population under threat

American Foulbrood (AFB) is posing a serious threat to the Western Cape’s bee population, with knock on effects to the industry.

AFB has proved difficult to control. If we do not take quick action, this could result in devastating economic losses, in primary agriculture and food security, putting thousands of jobs on the line.

Crops are dependent on bees for pollination. The fruit industry in the Western Cape requires between 120 000 and 140 000 pollination units annually and the demand is increasing each year.

According to an estimate by the Western Cape the Department of Agriculture, the provincial average level of infection within an AFB-infected beekeeping operation is estimated to be between 5 and 10 per cent.

Infected colonies either die or are required to be killed by beekeepers to prevent them from contaminating other operations.

While the National Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has passed legislation which effectively prohibits the movement of any infected colonies, I am aware that capacity constraints make it difficult to enforce these regulations.

We have taken the following steps to address the matter:

  • I have conducted a site visit to bee apiaries in Klapmuts and have been in ongoing engagements with the industry to assess the impact of this illness;
  • The Provincial Department of Agriculture has hosted an information session with farmers this week;
  • I have written to the National Minister of Agriculture to offer the Western Cape’s full co-operation in the management of the bee population, particularly in respect of AFB;
  • The Red Tape Reduction Unit is conducting an analysis to assess best practice in this management process.

The Red Tape Reduction Unit is also investigating how to resolve a case in which two containers loaded with honey have been left stranded at a local storage facility in Montague Gardens since 2009.

An inspection found that the honey was contaminated with antibiotics. Further, the National Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries requires that imported honey must be irradiated, at a cost, to prevent the further spread of AFB. Only one container was irradiated.

“It has now been six years. The containers are rusting and the non-irradiated batch poses an AFB risk as well as an environmental risk.”

Minister Winde said the pollination industry was an important economic generator. “According to research from the Western Cape Department of Agriculture, out of the 115 leading global food crops, 87 are dependent on annual pollination.  Bees and pollination services contribute about R16 billion to the GDP of South Africa and about R10 billion of that is generated in the Western Cape.”