Honey business at risk BEEKEEPING is a lucrative business in Pakistan. Each beekeeper here produces three times more honey than their European counterparts, although a majority of these beekeepers belong to the rural region with a low literacy rate, suffering heavily from ravages of the war on terror.
Honeybee flora, found throughout the Northern areas, FATA and AJK, can potentially support 1m honeybee colonies. This region is important for the honey agro-food chain including beekeepers, honey extraction plants, buyers, traders, exporters and carriers.
Over the last few years, honey has become one of the most important and profitable agricultural products for export. The area represents one of the country’s richest zones of biodiversity. Most of the population of this area is dependent upon natural resources for its livelihood. A majority of the beekeepers dominating the honey business are unskillful Afghan immigrants.
Although beekeeping has become an increasingly professional activity in recent years, this industry remains poorly documented in the country. In a preliminary study AFB (American foul brood) infections were observed in bees – the most serious bacterial disease of the honeybee brood.
Presence of the pathogenic bacteria is most likely to contaminate honey and other by-products of honeybees … and pose a major health risk to human beings
This disease is highly transmittable and spreads easily through contaminated equipment, hive tools, and beekeepers’ hands. It was surveyed during the berry flowering season (July-October) in three districts Bannu, Karak and Kohat, selecting five locations from each district.
These locations represented the agro-ecological zones in Southeastern Kohat, central Karak and Bannu, where berry plants are grown as a major honey crop. The beekeepers from different areas of the country rush towards these regions and establish their colonies at deserted places along the roadside.
The prevalence of AFB was found to be uniformly distributed in all the districts indicating a 37.30pc incidence. It is suggested that beekeepers should maintain ‘hospital yards’ in which they group AFB colonies together in isolated places for proper treatment. Such yards — reservoirs of disease — serve to contaminate apiaries for miles around.
It is equally inadvisable to treat infected colonies with terramycin. The antibiotic can shroud visible signs of the disease quickly, but the symptoms will rapidly reappear once the antibiotic is stopped, because P-larvae have developed resistance against different antibiotics around the world.
The International Centre for Chemical and Biological Sciences at the University of Karachi, and the Biological Science laboratories at Gomal University D.I. Khan used traditional and molecular techniques while exploring the honeybee digestive system for bacterial flora.
It was observed that a considerable number of bee gut flora contributed to human and insects pathogenic bacteria, for example, Shigella, Salmonella, Enterococcus, Staphylococcus. The finding of vertebrate pathogenic bacteria from bee-guts is quite alarming.
Presence of the pathogenic bacteria is most likely to contaminate honey and other by-products of honeybees. Although honey is an antibacterial agent, overload of pathogenic microbes may produce serious threat to public health. It can be assumed that the consumption of honey contaminated with pathogenic bacteria will pose a major health risk to human beings. Furthermore, the health status of honeybees with reference to the AFB bacterial isolates are being deeply investigated.
Majority of beekeepers are ignorant of the proper treatments and management of bee colonies. If they are given awareness about the proper use of antibiotic, sterilisations of hive tools and incineration of infected colonies, the honey production will increase.
Pakistan’s bee flora can potentially support to colonise twice more than the existing bee farms. Bee inspectors should be appointed for observations of fatal bee diseases. Every bee farm should be registered and their honey should not be commercialised inside the country, or exported before prior licensing and quality assurance certificate by the authority labs.
The writer works at the Department of Zoology, Kohat University of Science and Technology, Kohat, KP.