Disease threatens bee farmers

(Julian Stratenschulte, AP, dpa)
(Julian Stratenschulte, AP, dpa)

Durban - A disease that has spread among bees in the Western Cape is threatening to reach KwaZulu-Natal and completely wipe out South Africa’s bee population.

The American Foulbrood (AFB) disease is extremely contagious to bees and has already spread across parts of the Western Cape.

The disease is known as the most devastating bee disease in the world and is caused by bacteria that infect bee larvae, resulting in their death and the release of billions of infectious bacterial spores into the environment.

As the Western Cape Bee Industry Association draws up possible solutions and preventive measures and desperately tries to contain it, KZN bee farmers are concerned about it reaching the province.

KwaZulu-Natal Bee Farmers Association chair, Craig Campell, said the disease is not only devastating to bee farmers and the bees themselves, but to those producing fruits and vegetables.

“The chances of the disease spreading to KZN are extremely high,” he said.

Campbell added that once in KZN the disease would be difficult to contain and bees would start dropping dead. “It is untreatable and is extremely contagious,” said Campbell.

“The disease has the potential to wipe out all the bees in South Africa.

“This does not only affect bee farmers and producers of honey, it affects those who produce fruit and vegetables such as avo, cherries, apples, onions, peaches and plums. Bees are necessary for pollination. My bees have travelled to Bethlehem to pollinate a farmer’s apples and cherries.”

‘Out of control’

Campbell said the bacterial spores are carried by the honey products, bee farming equipment and other bees.

“People must be conscious of what is going on and need to register with the Department of Agriculture even if they have just one hive, and registration is free.

“At the moment we are unable to tell who all the bee keepers are and if the disease reaches KZN, we will not be able to manage the disease if we do not know who owns bees.”

South African Bee Industry Organisation committee member and Western Cape Bee Industry Association treasurer Dawid Smit said the outbreak was of great concern and very serious.

In a statement by the Western Cape Bee Industry Association it was recorded that AFB was first diagnosed in the Western Cape in 2009.

Five years later the disease has ravaged the bees of the Western Cape years and “has been found to be out of control”.

Once AFB has been visually diagnosed, the colony will not recover and will have to be burned and equipment thoroughly sterilised to control the spread.

Some farmers own over five thousand hives in KZN and should the disease spread, thousands of bees will have to be incinerated.

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