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Stung by Drought, Morocco's Bees Face Disaster

Stung by Drought, Morocco's Bees Face Disaster

Monday, 4 April, 2022 - 08:00
(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 26, 2020, a beekeeper works at the Inzerki Apiary in the village of Inzerki, 82 km north of Agadir, in the Souss-Massa region. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

Morocco's village of Inzerki is proud to claim it has the world's oldest and largest collective beehive, but instead of buzzing with springtime activity, the colonies have collapsed amid crippling drought, AFP reported.


Beekeeper Brahim Chatoui says he has lost almost a third of his hives in just two months -- and he is not alone.


"At this time of year, this area would normally be buzzing with bees," said Chatoui, sweating under a blazing springtime sun. "Today, they're dying at a terrifying rate."


The North African kingdom has seen a dramatic spike in mass die-offs of the critical pollinators, a phenomenon called "colony collapse disorder".


Worldwide, experts say such sudden mass deaths of bees are often linked to the destruction of nature and the rampant use of pesticides.


But authorities in Morocco say these collapses are caused by the worst drought to hit the country in 40 years, which has decimated the plants on which bees rely for food.


The crisis is so acute that the government released 130 million dirhams ($13 million), to support beekeepers and investigate the cause of the bee deaths.


Morocco's National Food Safety Office, which carried out the investigation, ruled out disease as a reason.


Instead, it blamed the "unprecedented" spike in hive collapses on an intense drought driven by climate change.


Inzerki's unique collective beehive sits on a sunny hillside in the heart of the Arganeraie Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO-protected 2.5-million-hectare region, some 415 kilometers (260 miles) southwest of the capital Rabat.


The complex is striking: A five-storeyed structure of wooden struts and dry mud stretch along a hillside, each compartment home to a cylindrical wicker hive, covered with a mix of earth and cow dung.


Experts say it is the oldest traditional, collective beehive in the world, dating back to 1850, but today it is under threat amid a changing climate.


"This year we hope for rain, because I have lost 40 hives so far," Chataoui said.


Bee expert Antonin Adam, who has studied the insects in southwestern Morocco, also blamed the collapse on the drought.


But he added the problem may have been exacerbated by "the bees' vulnerability to diseases, nomadic pastoral practices, intensive agriculture and the country's desire to increase its honey production".


That desire is clearly visible in agriculture ministry figures.


Honey output has risen by 69 percent in a decade, from 4.7 tons in 2009 to almost eight tons in 2019, generating revenues of over 100 million euros.


But it is not only Inzerki's apiary that is in trouble.


Mohamed Choudani, of the UAM beekeepers union, said the crisis was hitting bee populations across the country.


Last summer, Morocco's 36,000 beekeepers were managing some 910,000 hives, up by 60 percent since 2009, according to official figures.


But Choudani said that since last August, 100,000 colonies had been lost in the central region of Beni Mellal-Khenifra alone.


Bees and other pollinators are vital for the reproduction of more than three-quarters of food crops and flowering plants.


The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) say bees play an "essential role... in keeping people and the planet healthy", with the UN saying they "serve as sentinels for emergent environmental risks, signaling the health of local ecosystems".


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