Queen rearing and bee breeding – issues arising

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Queen rearing and bee breeding - issues arising

Bees for  Development's focus is to use indigenous species wherever possible and build on traditional techniques to find methods that work with the resources available. Neither queen rearing nor bee breeding fit with this philosophy comfortably.

Where honey bees occur naturally they have evolved according to the natural conditions prevailing in that region.  They have evolved ways of surviving in the presence of local pests and predators, according to the types of plants available, and the seasons and climate. While there is plenty of potential in many places to improve the productivity and manageability of bees in a way that brings positive benefits to both the beekeepers and the local ecology, poor application of bee breeding ideas and methods can also negatively affect the local adaptation of the honey bees potentially reducing their fitness within a given environment.

Importation of bees into an area as part of a breeding or queen rearing programme, especially if it is either a different species or a different race to existing indigenous bees, needs to be viewed with great caution as it has the potential to disturb the distribution of existing ecogeographic honey bee races. If there is an genuine need to instigate a bee breeding programme this should under no circumstances be entered into without first having completed a survey of available honey bee races and their characteristics. It is very easy to lose genetic material. This may not seem to be of immediate consequence but may matter for future generations who will face different problems and may need different characteristics. If genetic material is lost it can not be recreated - once lost it has gone for ever.

Where small scale queen rearing is needed it may be better to use some simpler colony division techniques.  If hive colonisation is actually the real problem, it may be more beneficial to look at the underlying causes. Queen rearing on large scale engenders inappropriate expectations and demands complex techniques and expensive equipment. To set up a royal jelly production system or a large scale commercial queen rearing programme is a complex undertaking. It can be expensive requiring capital and technical skills that may not be easily available or can be better used in other ways if beekeeping is being promoted as a tool for poverty alleviation. The style of beekeeping in the project area may not be appropriate for the purpose of queen rearing and there is plenty of potential for income generation without visiting this rather specialist beekeeping niche.

Finally, the queen rearing techniques that are used for temperate honey bees are less suitable for African honey bees, that are notably different both physiologically and behaviourally. Consequently, queen rearing carries greater potential for failure in the conditions prevailing in many developing countries.  

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