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Supporting Africa’s honey production, bee health and pollination services for world food security and livelihoods through the African Apiculture Platform

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© icipe. Illustration/Man collecting bees.© icipe. Illustration/Man collecting bees.

The African Apiculture Platform (AAP) on Honey Production, Bee Health and Pollination Services is a body of professionals working in the field of apiculture (the raising and care of bees for commercial or agricultural purposes). The Platform was officially launched in Kampala, Uganda in December, 2014 to improve the performance of the apiculture sector in Africa, which faces a myriad challenges.

In his keynote address at the launch, the Director of the African Union- Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR), Professor Ahmed El-Sawalhy observed that “although Africa has great potential if this sector is tapped, constraints retard the growth of the sector, such as pests, use of pesticides, insecticides, unreliable data, ineffective associations, weak value chains, low uptake of technologies, weak policy and weak stakeholder participation in decision making processes”.

About 80% of Africans depend directly or indirectly on agriculture for their livelihoods. Agriculture provides 70% of Africa’s full time employment, one third of total GDP, and 40% of total export earnings. Agricultural growth and crop productivity largely depend on bee pollination services that have ecological and agricultural values. The economic ecological value of pollination is estimated at US$ 120 billion annually while the economic agricultural value for pollination is estimated at US$ 200 billion in global agriculture.

While countries with bee programmes in Sub-Saharan Africa continue to benefit from initiatives on honeybees and bee management, they lack bee health intervention programmes, which could have significant impact on income generation, poverty reduction and livelihood improvement, and human and livestock health. The introduction of improved disease and pest control, and management strategies using bio-pesticides has had a positive impact on beehive numbers, resulting in more bee products. Likewise, pollination services have benefitted, leading to increased crop production and crop productivity on farms.

But because bee diseases and pests do not respect borders, it is necessary to employ local, national, regional and continental approaches to disease management. These approaches entail the use of basic regulatory frameworks and guidelines for disease control which would be coordinated, harmonized and promoted across Africa. Similarly, information on bee health problems (such as effects of pesticides, food safety concerns due to chemical residues in honey, other bee products or implications in pollination of plants) are global and should be dealt with at the continental level.

Based on the experience of the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) with earlier beekeeping initiatives in East, West, North, South and Central Africa with farmers’ associations, a world class central reference laboratory for bee diseases and pests in Africa was developed and launched in November 2014 at the Nairobi-based icipe headquarters. The regional beekeeping initiatives aim to strengthen and modernize research and development in African beekeeping. They also offer an opportunity for income diversification for rural resource-poor farmers, while stimulating positive natural resource management that maintains the integrity of ecosystems.

The African reference laboratory for bee health serves as a training centre for scientists from various parts of the continent. It is also a hub for novel research and biotechnology in honeybee and other pollinators’ diseases and a centre of excellence for bee health research in Africa. The laboratory is managed by a Project Steering Committee (PSC) chaired by AU-IBAR, with members from participating countries, farmers’ federations and selected European scientific organizations. The laboratory develops management strategies to cope with and overcome pests and diseases in bees. It also provides a service to satellite stations for monitoring the presence and spread of pests and diseases. There are four satellite laboratories in Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Cameroon and Liberia that serve the respective regions.

The African Apiculture Platform held its first Executive Committee meeting on 16-18 April 2015 in Naivasha, Kenya. Forty one participants attended the meeting, representing the Secretariat, elected members of the Executive Committee and observers. The Executive Committee forms one of the governance organs of the AAP, the other three being the General Assembly, the Working Groups and the Support Team. The Executive Committee members are drawn from AU member states, beekeeping federations, civil society organizations, the private sector, regional and economic communities (RECs), and international, research and academic institutions in Africa.

The Platform has initiated several activities, including the production of country reports on the status of the honey bee sector, and compilation of a book on the status of honey production in Africa. Three working groups have been formed on: (i) bee health; (ii) pollination services and biodiversity conservation; and (iii) production, marketing and technologies.

The African Apiculture Platform Executive Committee has a two-year action plan for 2015-2016, with activities to be carried out by the three working groups under five objectives as follows:

  • To facilitate collaboration and cooperation between value chain members

Members will develop an information dissemination framework, including the use of the website and an African beekeeping journal. They will also produce a generic document for the establishment of the multi-stakeholder AAP for circulation to all AU member countries.

  • To share lessons learnt and good practices

Members will collect information from AU member states on lessons and good practices for sharing on the website and journal.

  • To facilitate the creation of a regulatory and legal framework at the continental level

Members will develop a generic regulatory framework which AU member countries could adapt and adopt.

  • To encourage development partners to increase public funds for apiculture development

Members will develop evidence-based advocacy work at the national, regional and continental levels to attract investment.

  • To advocate on issues affecting the apiculture sector

Members will prepare a profile of factors limiting the apiculture sector such as habitat destruction, loss of forests, pests and diseases, and pesticides misuse.

Several key activities are planned for the year 2015, including a Symposium in Egypt from 1st to 3rd September on ’The future of African bees’. The symposium will bring together experts from within and outside the African continent to share experiences on honey bee breeding, genetics and physiology, honey bee disease and pests, impacts of environmental stressors on bees, conservation, ecosystems services, and bee policy.

In the second half of the year, the three AAP working groups will convene to share knowledge available in their respective areas, identify important gaps and resolve on concrete actions to fill these knowledge gaps. Other activities are: e-training for stakeholders on honey production, bee health and pollination services; strengthening and support to producer organizations for input supply management and cooperative marketing; analyzing the apiculture value chain; regional training to build capacity of beekeepers associations’ members and extensions workers in AU member states to acquire information on post-harvest handling of beehive products; utilizing improved bee health and pollination services technologies and innovations; supplying data to the reference database on honey production, bee health and pollination services; and consultancy activities.

The AAP General Assembly will be held in November 2015 to bring together all stakeholders from the 54 AU member states, the Executive Committee, the AAP working groups, project steering committee members and project technical advisory committee members.