By Desmond Brown
He has seen the growth of beekeeping since 2006, thanks to the fact that the players in the sector are increasingly aware of the importance of the activity for agriculture and, therefore, an important factor of development and economic growth.
But now Williams is concerned that honey production has dropped significantly in recent years; a phenomenon that he attributes in large part to climate change. Unfavorable weather conditions, according to him, such as continuous heavy rains, reduce the bees' access to nectar and pollen, weakening the colonies, which do not have enough food.
“The threat became evident in the last decade, and it happened in an extraordinary way in 2009, 2010 and 2013.
The weather, as you know, is very unpredictable and it definitely affected honey production in the last two years, but last year it was the worst in terms of harvest, ”Williams told IPS.
"Climate change is evident as seen in the unpredictability of rains and flash floods at totally unusual times of the year," he remarked. In December 2013, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines was one of the three Eastern Caribbean countries, along with Dominica and Saint Lucia, that suffered from a low-level depression that dumped hundreds of millimeters of water, left 13 people dead, and destroyed arable land and infrastructure.
"Most of the farmers, as far as I know, did not lose their hives, but they suffered the impact of the torrential rains," Williams continued. When it rains permanently, he explained, “the bees cannot go out and forage in the trees, where they get food; that reduces our production, it really affected me.
For two years we had very unusual rains ”.
“In April, in the middle of the dry season, it rained constantly for three or four days, which affected production; we have dry wells in the rainy season and there is a change in the honey flow season, when the beekeepers harvest it, ”Williams stressed.
The honey harvest used to be from February to May and even April, but now “we can't collect anything.
This variability is due to climate change ”, he declared. With a dozen hives, Williams said he harvests an average of 30 gallons (about 113 liters) of honey a year, increasing to 40 (just over 151 liters) in a "good year." Local honey sells for about $ 100 a gallon, slightly less than imported honey.
Local beekeeping, mainly dedicated to the production and sale of honey, generates about $ 76,600.
The sector is recovering from its worst moment in 2006, when the bee population was nearly wiped out by a ferocious Varroa mite. In the last three years, the sector produced more than 1,000 gallons (3,078 liters) of honey with the 477 colonies in the country. Currently, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines has 54 beekeepers registered in the database, including nine women. Rupert Lay, a water resources specialist at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), said that climate change began to pose difficulties for beekeepers, and not only in this country, but throughout the Caribbean.
"An interesting indicator is the low to almost zero production of honey in the region," observed Lay, who participates in the project for the Reduction of Natural and Human Risks due to Climate Change, implemented by the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States OECO) with funds from Usaid.
"This can be related to the unpredictability of the weather, which affects the hives and, therefore, the production of honey," he told IPS.
“These events disturb the lives of farmers, which in turn damages the social fabric and their livelihoods, even affecting education. Their sons and daughters recognize stress and it causes them concern, which leads to a decrease in attention spans in the classroom and ends up affecting performance, ”Lay explained.
Williams pointed out that what is happening in the Caribbean should not be confused with the so-called "colony collapse disorder", a phenomenon whereby hive worker bees abruptly disappear in Europe today.
These disappearances have occurred throughout the history of beekeeping and had various names, but the syndrome was renamed CCD in late 2006, when there was also a dramatic increase in the number of disappearances of bee colonies in America. from North. Colony collapse carries significant economic weight because bees pollinate many crops.
According to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Protection of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the value of crops pollinated by bees was estimated at about $ 200 billion in 2005.
Other difficulties for beekeeping, according to Williams, is the lack of suitable sites to locate the apiary, exotic pests and invasive species, along with a lack of equipment, fumigation and personnel. According to beekeeper Ricky Narine from Barbados, the biggest challenge today is saving the bees.
“We try to save them. There are many people using many chemicals that kill bees, and they do not realize that the lack of bees will have an impact on the environment. No matter how much they are told, they keep doing it, ”he lamented.
“They can call us or use something more secure. There are many different types of insecticides that can be used that are harmless to bees. They can cost a dollar or two more, but they don't kill them, ”he remarked.