Vandalism, theft, adulteration of products and lack of nectar have become massive problems for KwaZulu-Natal’s bee keepers.This comes ahead of Pietermaritzburg’s first Honey Festival this Sunday at the Royal Agricultural Showgrounds where bee keepers will be engaging the public on just how important bees are to the environment, among other things.The KwaZulu-Natal Bee Farmers Association chairperson, Kim McCall, told The Witness this week that vandalism of hives and theft of honey “are a huge problem in KwaZulu-Natal”.McCall said she’d had the equivalent of 1 200 bottles of honey stolen from one of the hives on her farm last week.“They take the frames out from the hive, cut out the honey combs and then slip the slides back into the hive as if the hive has not been disturbed. It is a devastating blow. In the Free State 300 to 400 [whole] hives have been stolen.”She said the theft was made easier by the fact that hives are often located in isolated places as they must not be anywhere near people or animals.“In the Western Cape, they have about 50 hives on the road reserves but you cannot do this in Mpumalanga, the Free State or KZN because they would be stolen.”Another issue plaguing the bee-keeping community at the moment is the “adulteration of honey”.A member of the association, who asked not to be named, said there had been several complaints from honey buyers claiming that certain brands they had purchased tasted more like sugar, syrup or candyfloss than honey. These bottles are allegedly being marketed as “pure honey”, but an investigation is under way as it is believed that these bottles may in reality contain up to 70% syrup and only 30% honey.The source said these bottles usually sold for less in stores, making it difficult for hard working, dedicated and honest bee keepers to turn a profit. However, McCall said that this Sunday’s festival will be all about educating the public on every aspect of bee keeping as well as showcasing the different varieties of honey and products made from beeswax and honey.She said the public will also be educated on the importance of bee keeping, saying that many fruit farms rely heavily on commercial bees to pollinate their produce. “We will be answering everything we can about bee keeping — from what plants to grow in your garden to attract bees, bee removals, and how important it is to support local bee keepers.”McCall said only a third of honey consumed in the country is produced in SA.