By IQBAL MIRZA
Pakistan can overcome the problem of declining agricultural productivity through planned honeybee pollination activities across the country, according to a research project launched in Sindh.
Honeybee pollination in sunflower crop could decrease Pakistan’s national import bill of edible oils and save Pakistan’s losses, which run into millions of dollars each year by having low farm output which is attributed to very low or no honeybee pollination activity at all.
By developing the pollination industry, the quality and quantity of production of fruits, vegetables and horticulture sector for producing ‘export quality’ products, including honey, could be increased manifold in the country, which would not only ensure food security through increased productivity but would also earn millions of dollars in foreign exchange through export of fruits, vegetables and honey.
Shah Farms Pakistan (SFP) has launched an adaptive research project with sunflower growers of interior Sindh. According to apiculturist Asim Zafar Shah, the sunflower growers of Matli and Golarchi (District Badin) have recorded 22 percent increase in the crop yield due to honeybee pollination trials at their field farms during the last one year.
Asim Zafar of Shah Farms, who is a professional apiculturist having professional degree from Queensland Agriculture University, Australia, told Business Recorder that Shah Farms has initiated honeybee pollination activities across Sindh for research and direct benefit to sunflower growers of the area.
He said that Shah Farms, with the support of ICI, Pakistan, organised a field day at the farmhouse of progressive farmer and office-bearer of Sindh Abadgar Board, Abdul Majeed Nizamani, which was participated by many sunflower growers of the area as well as a group of agriculture scientists and students of Tando Jam University to learn about the possible impact of honeybee pollination on crop yield as well as its direct and indirect financial benefits.
Honeybee researcher Asim Zafar expressed hope for the success of this project and said that honeybee pollination could decrease the national import bill of edible oils and increase the national fruit export by several million dollars each year if the government realised the significance of honeybee pollination in the country.
Honeybees are a critical component of agricultural landscape world-wide as honeybees visit blossoms to gather the nectar, and pollen, necessary for their survival. They help agricultural crops, home gardens and wildlife habitats flourish. Pollination is the transfer of pollen from the anthers of one flower to its own or another flower’s stigma. Simply put, pollination is the first indispensable step in a process that results in the production of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.
Pakistan currently has around 0.4 million honeybee colonies; each colony houses around 15,000 to 20,0000 honeybees. Asim said that around 70,000 to 80,000 honeybee colonies were lost due to flood in the country last year.
He said that the government should decide, and implement, a support price for honey in the country to support the honeybee keepers (apiarists) as well as to promote this industry in Pakistan. He said that currently over 20,000 families are directly employed in honeybee keeping.
He said that the government and the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP) should organise exhibitions in Pakistan as well as abroad to promote Pakistani honey across the world “as we produce best of honeys in the world but unfortunately it is sold in foreign markets with the brands and name of other countries and not of Pakistan”.
He said that due to the lethargic government policies and procedures, honey producers sell their honey, without value-addition, to foreign buyers who in turn sell it at exorbitant prices in international markets and that, too, without mentioning the area of origin.
He said that scientific and practical experience has proved that cross pollination of flowers of entomophilous crops by insects is the most effective and cheapest method of increasing crop yield. Besides increasing the yield, bee pollination also improves the quality of seeds and fruits. The cost of planned pollination of plants by bees is annually recovered by 15 to 20 times over through the value of additional crop yield. The income from agriculture in regions of intensive cultivation, obtained after using bees in plant pollination, is 14-15 times greater than the cost of honey and wax produced.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has estimated that in USA 80 percent of insect crop pollination is accomplished by honeybees. While other insects can also pollinate plants, honeybees are the premier pollinators because they are available throughout the growing season, and they pollinate a wide range of crops and can be concentrated whenever and wherever they are needed.
Asim said that in the United States about one-half of the full-time beekeepers move their colonies from state to state, and field to field, during the year to provide pollination services to farmers as well as to reach abundant sources of nectar for honey production. Thus, approximately 2 million colonies of bees are “on the road” each year to pollinate crops there. Many of these bees are moved to California, where an estimated 1,000,000 colonies of honeybees are needed just to pollinate the almond crop. And, the demand for these tiny, efficient workers and their keepers continues to grow.
He said that the hack of awareness at the levels of farmers, agriculture experts, analysts, and people at policy and planning is one of the main hurdles in promotion of pollination activities in the country.
He said that farmers are not aware of the importance and benefits of honeybee pollination for increased agricultural outputs. “Thus we lag far behind in this lucrative yet productive industry. In general, people believe that beekeeping is an exercise to produce honey only, and lack indigenous awareness on the need for managed crop pollination for enhancing cash crop production. There is a dire need of changing the ‘mindset’ about honeybees and beekeeping, and to raise awareness about the importance of managed crop pollination,” he stressed.
Raising awareness at all levels about the importance of managed crop pollination through beekeeping and other pollinators could be the first step towards a viable honeybee pollination industry, he added.
Asim said that the government should promote this industry by offering incentives to the farmers as well as to professional beekeepers as till today the pollination has never been a priority while formulating agriculture policies and agricultural development strategies. The importance of pollination to achieve higher yields has largely been ignored in Pakistan. Therefore, the farmers have less or no knowledge about its benefits and importance for their crops.
Since pollination is essential for the production of fruits and seeds, it should he included in agricultural development packages by promoting beekeeping for crop pollination as a ‘double benefit approach’. Thus, the most important step in promoting the wider use of honeybees for crop pollination is to include beekeeping as part of agricultural development efforts. He said: “We can ensure enormous employment opportunities for rural women by imparting them the knowledge and training about honeybee pollination”. He said that in the rural agriculture economy women play a very important role. Women are a major workforce in Pakistan’s agriculture landscape. If the government takes serious steps towards education and training of this workforce they could become crucial contributors in promoting the honeybee pollination to increase crop yield.
Consumers in the United States enjoy delicious, nutritious and affordable agricultural products year-round, and American farmers feed more and more people each year while using less land. Without the honeybees’ pollination work, the quantity and quality of many crops would be reduced and some would not yield at all.
According to a 2000 Cornell University study, the increased yield and quality of agricultural crops as a result of honeybee pollination is valued at more than $14.6 billion per year. In fact, approximately one-third of the total human diet is derived directly or indirectly from insect pollinated plants (fruits, legumes and vegetables).