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Bienen 350x233Farming practice needs to become more bee- and insect-friendly; politicians in Germany at local and state levels, in Europe and the world over must assume responsibility for introducing measures to support farmers’ efforts in this direction. This is the conclusion to which the organisers came in the follow-up to the Fifth International Organic Beekeeping Conference which took place between 1st and 3rd March, 2019 at the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart.

The participants included over 300 professional apiarists and hobby beekeepers, scientists, development experts and other beekeeping enthusiasts. The event was organised by the University of Hohenheim, the organic association Naturland, and the Apiculture Forum of IFOAM, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements.
“This conference has demonstrated the need for a paradigm shift with regard to land use and management at regional, national and international levels,” says Dr. Sabine Zikeli, head of the Centre for Organic Agriculture at the University of Hohenheim.
In addition to determining the demands to be made of politicians, the talks given at the conference also highlighted the need for action to be taken in the fields of bee health and the protection of beekeepers beyond Europe’s borders.

Demands to be made of politicians

The loss of habitat, the use of pesticides, agricultural genetic engineering, monocultures, new parasites, the effects of the climate crisis – there are multiple factors contributing to the decline in the number of bees. At the same time, human beings are hugely dependent upon the services provided by our ecological systems, a further conclusion arrived at during the conference.

Prof. Urs Niggli of FiBL, Research Institute of Organic Agriculture, underlined the importance of increasing the number of hedgerows and fringe structures and the graded management intensity of grasslands with respect to agriculture in general, in order to make farming more bee-friendly. Emphasis was placed on the demand for comprehensive financial funding of research, especially into combatting diseases such as the main enemy of the honey bee, varroa, or for research into the sub-lethal affect of the cocktail of various pesticides on honey bees and wild bees.

As regards conventional agriculture, a call was made to improve mowing methods and pesticide application techniques. “Whether we are speaking about strips of blossoming plants, hedgerows, agricultural technology or research, politicians at regional and national level in Germany, throughout Europe and the world over, are required to assume their responsibility and give agriculture in all its aspects the support it requires, in the interest of our society as a whole,” says Steffen Reese, general manager of Naturland.

Bee health

The conference tackled the practical challenges facing organic beekeeping, with a focus on bee health. The main topics here were the quality and purity of beeswax as part of the bee’s organism, and the treatment of varroa destructor, the parasite which plagues bees.

“There is a silver lining on the horizon in the form of lithium compounds which are currently the subject of investigation at the apiary research centre at the University of Hohenheim. However, we do not have a patent remedy so far,” admits Uli Bröker, a Naturland beekeeping expert. “Until we are successful in our attempts to produce a bee resistant to varroa as a result of positive selection, we shall just have to manage with our current methods such as the use of organic acids, thermal treatment and brood interruption.”

A further finding of the scientists at the University of Hohenheim is the major role which invasion pressure by infected neighbouring swarms plays. Even distances as great as 1.5 km cannot protect a colony from infection by varroa effectively.

The hazards non-European beekeepers encounter

By contrast, varroa does not pose a significant threat in Africa or Latin America. The reason for this is that African bees are naturally resistant, and that extensive beekeeping is practised. In this case, changing forms of land management are the greatest hazard for bees and beekeepers.

“The increasing industrialisation of agriculture in many counties in the southern hemisphere, which is far removed from good farming practice, threatens the existence of millions of non-European beekeepers who depend on beekeeping for their living,” says Manfred Fürst, Naturland’s expert on international beekeeping and co-ordinator of the IFOAM Apiculture Forum.

In many regions the rapid advance of deforestation, for example on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, poses a threat to beekeepers. Here, the illegal cultivation of GMO soya is combined with the massive application of pesticides. The bees were not able to find food any more or were poisoned by the pesticides which were often sprayed by plane. As a result, honey production declines, and this is the most important source of income for Mayan families besides their agricultural production.

Talks given by speakers from Argentina and Ethiopia highlighted the importance of organic beekeeping to sustainable rural development and its contribution to the preservation and protection of important woodland areas throughout the world.

The potential for bee products in the field of apitherapy

At the conference the treatments available in the form of apitherapy were discussed. The discussion covered the quality of the products derived from organic beekeeping as well as the topic of the lack of scientific studies and success stories in practice. Apitherapy holds great potential and could also become an important source of income for beekeepers.

The Fifth International Organic Beekeeping Conference from 1st to 3rd March, 2019, was held in Germany for the first time. It was organised by the University of Hohenheim, Naturland – Association for Organic Agriculture and the Apiculture Forum of IFOAM, International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM).