The icipe Bee Health Project
Why focus on the African Bee?

More than 70% of the world’s major crops rely on bees for pollination. However, around the globe, bees are  struggling with pests and diseases which have already decimated large populations in Europe and the USA. While agriculture is providing over 70% of Africa's full time employment only little information is available on the pollinators' health across the continent. The icipe Bee Health Programme seeks to bridge this knowledge gap and through its activities strives to strengthen and promote national and regional cooperation across Africa to safeguard the health of the African Bee.

Africa’s overall economic performance is inextricably linked to the agricultural sector

Apart from providing 70% of Africa’s full time employment, one third of total GDP, and 40% of total export earnings, approximately 80% of all Africans depend directly or indirectly on agriculture for their livelihoods. Agricultural productivity is therefore crucial for reducing hunger and poverty across the continent.

The importance of bees for agricultural growth

Pollination (primarily by bees) is an essential function of the Earth’s natural ecosystems, as it is required to produce fruits and seeds in up to 90% of the world’s 250,000 species of agricultural, medicinal, fibre and other flowering plants (including native plants), as well as fodder for livestock. Therefore, presence of bees is essential towards the increased yields and hence, food security and income in Africa. Bees also provide much-needed extra income for smallholder farmers, who sell honey, wax and other products. Additionally, of the 100 plus major crop species accounting for about 90% of all food production, 71% of them rely on bee pollination to be able to reproduce season after season.

The global estimated value of pollination to economic ecology and agriculture

Economic ecologic value: US$ 120 billion annually economic agricultural value: US$ 200 billion (Diagramme)

Bee health in Africa and around the world is in decline

Multiple factors related to an increasing human population such as landscape degradation and urbanization are threatening bee health and colony diversity around the world and have lead to an alarming decimation of honeybee populations in Europe and the USA often referred to as the Collony Collapse Disorder. In many parts of Africa, very low level of the American foulbrood disease has been reported (Fries and Raina). However, the recently confirmed presence of the varroa mite, brood diseases and Paenibacillus larvae larvae spores in SSA are likely to compromise honeybee health and consequently honeybee productivity in this region of the world. This has raised concerns that these highly devastating mites, and probably so far undiagnosed honeybee diseases, could be widespread in Africa. Two miticides, fluvalinate and coumaphos, introduced in 1987, have been effective in varroa control but there is now widespread resistance to both.

Lack of systematic Bee Health monitoring across the African continent

With the world facing possible long term ripple effects from the diminishing bee numbers such as reduced food production, there is little information on honey bee health across the African continent in general.

The possibility and effects of colony losses similar to Europe or the USA would seriously harm the livelihoods of millions in Africa. The proper conservation of honeybees in Africa must therefore be ensured so that past experiences in other parts of the world are not repeated. In addition, due to a global decline of bee colony diversity there is need to protect the genetic diversity represented by the different African wild honeybee populations.

Need for enhancing institutional ability to tackle honey bee related issues

At an institutional level, the lack of resources to analyse products, certify for export, and identify bees and their diseases and parasites are often mentioned as major constraints to maintain bee health in Africa. Infrastructure to monitor, certify and enable trade in honey and beeswax is also lacking in the majority of African countries. Inappropriate and/or lack of policies protecting the industry and preventing the introduction of bee diseases and parasites is another missing link that needs to be addressed in the short-run.

There is very limited notification and reporting of bee diseases to the African Union-Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR) and The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and this is also a major constraint to the design of proper policies, strategies and specific programs. The limited notification and reporting of bee diseases may be attributed to the low capacity of national veterinary institutions to detect bee diseases (the bee sector is many at times out of the scope of veterinary services as it lies either in the ministry in charge of environment or that of crop productions), the lack of legislative frameworks for bee disease control and the lack of awareness on the importance of bee health. The icipe Bee Health Programme will consolidate those collaborations and synergies in three African regions.

Need for a continental approach

Bee diseases and pests do not respect borders, therefore local, national, regional and continental initiatives are required and the respective basic regulatory frameworks and guidelines need to be coordinated and promoted across the entire continent. Similarly, information pertaining to bee health needs to be disseminated at a continental level.