Beekeepers are faced with problems
that impact their livelihoods.
We spent 2 years researching beekeeping and found that beekeepers biggest issues can be categorised into 2 areas: hive losses and the honey market.
Hive losses are caused by a bunch of different problems, but they all lead back to the beekeeper having to either replace or fix their beehive. To make a living from beekeeping a beekeeper needs at least 50 hives, and ideally 200. In South Africa, estimates have beekeepers loosing up to 30% of their hives annually to theft, vandalism, fires, honey badgers, baboons, flooding, insect damage and general wear/tear. For a beekeeper with 100 hives this can amount to R400 000 in equipment costs, let alone the lost honey revenue and cost of replacing the swarm. With theft and vandalism on the rise many beekeepers have abandoned risky sites decreasing the national honey yields.
Adding fuel to the fire, cheap imports of low-quality or fake honey and adulteration of local honey has driven the honey price into the ground. At a time when beekeepers need to increase their prices to cover their basic costs, they are unable to do so for fear of loosing more business to the fraudulent honey market. These two wicked problems have driven hundreds of beekeepers out of the industry. Pollination, which used to be an added bonus to honey production has now become the mainstay for many beekeepers with honey production relegated to the latter role. While the research focused on South Africa, we have been astonished to find how similar the problems are in beekeeping industries around the world.
Wooden beehives are brilliant and can definitely work perfectly under normal circumstances - even then they will need to be painted and maintained after 4 years. Most beekeepers, however, aren't experiencing normal circumstances. Having a few beehives in your garden is easy to handle. You can keep pests, fires and various other threats at bay. Once you start expanding your apiaries, your beehives start to occupy areas that are exposed to the threats. Thats when you start to have trouble sleeping, wondering if the next time you arrive at your apiary you'll find the beehives have been pushed over by wind, or perhaps some mischievous youths. Maybe a fire has passed through the area, a single spark igniting the dry wood like a tinder box. What if another, amoral, beekeeper stumbled upon your site and loaded your hives up. The worries mount and the sleep diminishes. Good, safe sites are hard to come by. To take advantage of forage sources and maximize your honey production having more hives in more places is ideal. Now we can either buy more wooden hives to replace old ones or buy/make more durable hives and keep increasing our apiaries.
"If local beekeepers could only produce more honey then we could limit importation." Well, if only it were that simple. Due to the rises in theft and vandalism beekeepers have had to abandon huge areas that used to be sources of honey. As the honey production decreases more is imported or adulterated to meet demand. Prices of electricity, food, fuel, wood, hardware, equipment and everything continues to go up, but honey prices have remained largely the same or decreased over the last 20 years. Imports go up and local production goes down. Weather becomes more extreme and honey yields go down. Studies have also shown that the condition of a beehive can have a huge impact on the overall productivity. Things like cracks, material thickness and poorly joining components can have a huge impact on the temperature regulation, and therefore the productivity, of the colony. While a wooden hive can be bought for R600, you can also find ones for R1600, and in this we see a wide range in quality and durability. As the hive deteriorates the beekeeper starts loosing money. Therefore a durable hive means good honey yields.
A Heavy Toll
These are images we collected demonstrating the devastating destruction that is too often visited on innocent bees and essential equipment.