Overstory #40 - Bees and Agroforestry
Honey Bees and Agroforestry
All fruit and seed crops need to be pollinated in order to be productive. Honey bees are very active and effective pollinators for many kinds of crops, the integration of honey bees into agroforestry systems can improve crop yield dramatically. Properly managed pollination by honey bees results in larger, well-formed fruits, berries, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. At the same time, the honey bees produce honey and a wide range of other products that are potential sources of income.
While managed pollination by honey bees has become standard for large-scale agriculture in temperate areas, innovative beekeeping practices are springing up throughout the tropics. The subject has wide appeal to tropical farmers because beekeeping does not require large amounts of labor, land, or capital, but enhances productivity and contributes to sustainability of farming systems. Beekeeping can be practiced successfully on a part-time basis, and yields a wide array of high-value products that can increase a farmer's income by 40-60%.
Beekeeping is being practiced in tropical orchards, home gardens, plantations, and many agroforestry systems including coconut, coffee, pineapple, and others. Beekeeping is also a relatively low-impact activity that can increase local people's income from native forest or conservation areas.
When most people think of beekeeping, they think of honey production. Honey is an important product that fetches a high market price in many parts of the world, but there are many other products from bee keeping that can be equally if not more lucrative than honey. "Apitherapy," or the use of bee products for health and healing, is growing in the world market. Apitherapy products include natural bee pollen, raw propolis, fresh royal jelly (currently selling for US $70-$100 per kilogram), and bee venom (currently selling for over $100 per gram in China). Other products from bees include bee wax, which is used for candles and in many crafts, including batik work. Honey can be processed into honey cider-vinegar and honey wine (also known as mead). Honey and bee products are also being used in soaps and beauty products.
Multipurpose Tropical Trees and Shrubs for Bees
If you are wondering if your current agroforestry system will benefit from and support bees, look at these examples of tropical agroforestry trees and shrubs that all provide nectar for bees.
The improved pollination by the bees enhances production of seeds or fruits of these plants as well:
- Acacia confusa (formosa koa)
- Acacia holosericea (holosericea)
- Albizia adianthifolia
- Alblizia chinensis
- Albizia lebbeck (Tibet tree)
- Albizia saman (rain tree, monkeypod)
- Azadirachta indica (neem)
- Cajanus cajan (pigeon pea)
- Calliandra calothyrsus (calliandra)
- Cassia spectabilis (golden shower tree)
- Citrus species (citrus trees)
- Cocos nucifera (coconut)
- Eucalyptus species (eucalyptus)
- Dalbergia sissoo (sissoo rosewood)
- Gliricidia sepium (madre de cacao)
- Gmelina arborea (white beech)
- Grevillea robusta (silk oak)
- Hibiscus rosa-sinensis (hibiscus)
- Inga vera (inga, ice cream bean)
- Mangifera indica (mango)
- Melia azedarach (chinaberry)
- Morus nigra (mulberry)
- Pimenta dioica (allspice)
- Pithecellobium dulce (Manila tamarind)
- Prosopis species (kiawe, etc.)
- Psidium guajava (guava)
- Sesbania sesban (sesban)
- Syzygium cumini (java plum)
Fostering wild bees
Honey bees have become a key element in food production, especially for pollination. While the food supply is becoming dependent on one kind of bee (Apis mellifera), there exist over 20,000 species of wild bees, and many other pollinators including moths, birds and bats. Our need for an expanding food supply and managed farming systems must be balanced by an awareness of future possibilities, and particularly the need to make room for species that may not currently have recognized economic importance.
The risks of dependence on one kind of bee for crop production is already becoming clear. Problems from diseases, pests, and invasion from the Africanized honey bee are jeopardizing beekeeping in some parts of the world. For example, in the northwestern United States, honey bee populations have been severely depleted (in some areas by 40%) by pests such as the honeybee tracheal mite. In order to get adequate pollination of home orchards, the native, solitary Blue Orchard Mason Bee (Osmia lingaria) is now being encouraged in the area by increasing the availability of nest-holes, and several gardening suppliers now sell Mason Bees and their nests.
Wild bees, while not as abundant pollinators as the honey bee, can play important economic roles, and should be protected in their own right. In many areas of the world, small-scale growers depend on wild and feral bees, rather than managed honey bees, for pollination. Wild bees represent a tremendous diversity of forms and adaptations. Many wild bees bees do not live in hives, but are instead solitary. Some burrow in the ground; others bore into wood to build nests. Agroforestry systems provide ample opportunities to mingle managed and unmanaged environments, with room to preserve and encourage wild bees.
A number of factors have contributed to the decrease in the wild bee population. These include the destruction of the native bees' habitat for urbanization and large-scale agriculture; the use of pesticides, to which bees (including honey bees) are very sensitive; modern tilling practices, which destroy ground nests; and the decreased floral diversity of cropping systems.
Ways to foster wild bees in agroforestry systems:
- leave hedgerows or unmanaged areas in crop areas as nesting sites
- utilize more diverse crop plantings (to feed diverse pollinators)
- utilize no-till systems (to preserve ground nesting sites)
- plant alternative forage adjacent to agricultural areas
- reduce pesticide use, or at least shift the timing of sprays to minimize impact on feral bees.
These steps will increase diversity and abundance of wild bees. The movement to develop other bee species as managed pollinators will also be important for the future.
Orion Magazine, special edition on wild bees, Autumn 1993. Orion Society, 195 Main Street, Great Barrington, MA 01230, or fax to 413/528-0676. Web address: Fao Agricultural Services Bulletin. Tropical and Sub-Tropical Apiculture/F2981. 1987.
A. Mizrahi and Yaacov Lensky (Eds), Bee Products: Properties, Applications, and Apitherapy, 1997. Plenum Publ.
Source for other tropical beekeeping books: Bees for Development, Troy, Monmouth, NP5 4AB, United Kingdom; Tel: 44 (0)16007 13648, Fax: 44 (0)16007 16167; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Related Editions of The Overstory
- The Overstory #71--Nontimber Forest Products (Temperate)
- The Overstory #64--Homegardens
- The Overstory #53--Nontimber Forest Products--An Introduction
- The Overstory #3--Weeds as a Resource