New lab launched to protect bees, improve food security

Copyright: Flickr/ ICIPE

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  • Bees help about 70 per cent of major crops bear fruits, but pests threaten them
  • A new lab in Kenya hopes to boost food security through quality beekeeping
  • The lab is being used to analyse honey from farmers in 46 African nations

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[NAIROBI] A new reference laboratory with special equipment to detect common bee diseases and identify pests has been launched in Kenya to help African beekeepers improve quality assurance.

The Kenya-headquartered International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), which is hosting the laboratory, says honey bees are responsible for making more than 70 per cent of major crops worldwide bear fruits and seeds, but quality bee production is threatened by pests, bacterial and viral diseases, pesticides, climate change and deforestation.

“The food we eat is pollinated by bees, which are crucial in food production. That is why they are an important factor in our lives.”

Suresh Kumar Raina, ICIPE

The African Bee Health Reference Laboratory, which was officially opened this month (3 November), aims to boost food security by ensuring that bees are protected, says a statement from ICIPE.

“The food we eat is pollinated by bees, which are crucial in food production. That is why they are an important factor in our lives,” says Suresh Kumar Raina, a principal research scientist and team leader of the ICIPE’s bee health project. “The surveillance of bees in Africa will project specific diseases which affect bees in specific countries in different places on the continent.”

Apart from getting value addition for their honey products, the farmers will benefit from the laboratory’s capacity to boost rural livelihoods and food security through certification of their products and training on quality bee health practices, pollination services, bee keeping practices and honey analysis, Raina adds.

The laboratory, described by ICIPE researchers as the first ever in Africa, is a joint project between the EU, ICIPE and the African Union’s Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources and has a satellite station each in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia and Liberia.

According to Raina, the project involves stakeholders such as farmers’ federations, scientists from research institutes and universities, extension services workers, non-governmental organisation and community-based groups.

The laboratory is part of a three-year, EU-funded project led by ICIPE, which is worth 14.7 million euros (almost US$18.5 million). ICIPE says that it hopes to sustain the laboratory when the EU funding ends through the support of its core organisations, including the Kenyan government and other development partners.

Steve Wathome, EU delegation to Kenya’s programme manager for agriculture and rural development, says the project attracted EU funding because it is a biological process under conservative agriculture, which champions less chemical use.

Beekeepers in Africa have reported a decline in bee production in the recent past and scientists link this shortage to pesticide usage in agricultural production, Wathome adds.  

Rose Nyikal, an agricultural economist and a senior lecturer at the University of Nairobi in Kenya, sees the promise of accurate testing for pesticide residues and notes that it could help farmers appreciate pesticide issues.

“The publicly known bee problem in Africa is that often they attack livestock and human beings,” Nyikal says. They are not as docile as those in America or Europe."

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.