Working Together to Improve the Health, Productivity, and Sustainability of Bees
The American honey bee seems to be under siege. In the last year, U.S. beekeepers lost 42 percent of their colonies, another spike in a series of mass die-offs of epidemic levels. However, when we talk about bee death, or colony collapse, we are talking about industrial honey bees— bees in managed colonies, utilized for the purpose of pollination. In Grenada, bee health is critical for the success of pollination-based agriculture, which produces over a third of the Grenadian diet. Thus, the honey bee’s resistance against parasites – parasitic mites in particular, is the most serious problem facing beekeepers in Grenada, the East Caribbean, and other Caribbean countries.
In May, St. George’s University’s School of Veterinary Medicine’s East Caribbean Bee Research and Extension Centre (ECBREC) and Bee Research Laboratory held its third annual Caribbean Bee College to discuss this major concern and other topics such as; honey bee biology, research, and hive maintenance. Participants were treated to a myriad of lectures and workshops, some featuring hands-on learning experiences with live honey bee colonies and visits to Grenada’s local apiaries. The event was topped off with an evening Honey Show featuring honey and hive products including candles, colony art, photography, and honey wine known as Mead.
Beekeeping is an essential component of modern Grenadian agriculture, providing pollination services for agriculture crops and livestock feed, and adding US $2 million in value. The apiculture industry is one of the subsectors holding the greatest potential for transforming the agro-business sector with approximately 50 beekeepers producing between 3,000 and 7,000 gallons of honey per year valued at EC $126,000 to $540,000. Through pollination, it is thought that honey bees account for one-third of the world’s food, and their products serve many purposes, including healing wounds.
“ECBREC and the Bee Research Lab are dedicated to improving the health, productivity, and sustainability of bees in Grenada, the Eastern Caribbean, and the wider Caribbean,” said Dwayne Mitchell, Research and Apiary Manager at St. George’s University. “Our primary goal is to partner with beekeepers and other groups in the Caribbean in an effort to share information, tools, and resources that we hope will improve the sustainability of beekeeping among the islands.”
ECBREC currently carries out internationally recognized research in bee diseases, parasites, pests, husbandry, and pollination, to enhance knowledge of agriculture and livestock sustainability, ecology, behavior, and conservation. These study areas will contribute to the understanding of foraging behavior, defensive behavior and mechanisms that provide honey bees resistance especially against parasitic mites.
The Caribbean Bee College is a partnership between the Association of Caribbean Beekeepers’ Organizations, ECBREC and Bee Research Laboratory at St. George’s University School of Veterinary Medicine, the Honey Bee Research Extension Lab at the University of Florida, and individual beekeepers and other groups in the Caribbean. Through the support of key individuals and groups, the honey bee extension event serves as a learning experience for beekeepers, farmers, those in various bee-related industries and others interacting with honey bees and beekeeping at any level.
By Ray-Donna Peters