Based on the colonies that we inspected, the beekeeper interviews we conducted, and the experience of the ICIPE beekeeping staff, the health of honey bee populations in Kenya appears to be declining. In general, there are fewer hives being colonized by swarms or migrating colonies of bees than in the past. Hives containing bees are small and are not producing much honey. Colonies in areas where beekeeping has traditionally thrived due to abundant nectar and pollen resources seem to be less affected, than are those in areas with poor or limited resources. Potential factors contributing to the decline in health may include loss of foraging areas (deforestation and increased clearing of land for farming), drought and climate change, pesticide use, and, of course, the presence of the parasitic mite, Varroa destructor, and the viruses it can transmit. Over the next year, we and our ICIPE counterparts will analyze the samples we have collected, monitor the health of the colonies we visited and conduct additional experiments to increase our understanding of these bee subspecies and their abilities to withstand many of the same pressures that are causing bees to decline in other areas of the world.

We learned from the beekeepers we interviewed that there is an unlimited market for honey. Individuals have the potential to generate income from keeping bees and producing honey, but access to good-quality beekeeping equipment and adequate training is limiting their success. It is important to understand why Kenyan honey bees are not thriving and to find out what needs to be done to ensure healthy, productive populations. We are hopeful that what we learn in Africa will provide clues to help ailing honey bee populations around the world.

ICIK E-News Fall 2010 PDF