The Beekeeper’s Companion Since 1861
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Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor – August 2021

- August 1, 2021 - (excerpt)

A Modest Proposal

We all know about the “standard” queen marking colors:

Blue — 2020

White — 2021

Yellow — 2022

Red — 2023

Green — 2024

However, may I point out that whomever decided upon this code was obviously NOT color blind (not TOTALLY color blind, but the more prevalent red-green-brown type).

I would like to suggest that queen breeders provide optional colors for Red and Green — perhaps Silver for 2023 and Orange for 2024 (since Gray is already an option for White).

Thank you,
Gary L. Glaenzer
Jacksonville, Illinois


A Defense of Beekeeping Aid Projects

I was a bit apprehensive to read Lloyd Ziegler’s “Tradition vs. Change: in Defense of Traditional Beekeeping in Africa” in the May 2021 ABJ, as people had been asking me if I’d read “the article about how beekeeping development projects don’t work” for at least a week before my copy finally arrived way out here in Australia. When I finally got a chance to read it … well I can agree with many of the observations actually. Projects that ignore cultural realities are likely doomed to fail and there’s some potential cultural hurdles faced by beekeeping projects. I didn’t even feel a strong urge to respond (I run Bee Aid International and have done three previous projects in Guinea, the place the article focuses on, as well as starting a “remote” one there this very week), but then it occurred to me that if someone with influence on development funding read the article they could be left with the impression that beekeeping development projects in Africa aren’t worth funding, and I want to get ahead of that misapprehension.

There’s certainly reasons traditional hanging one-time-use hives are so popular there: cultural tradition, cheapness, and that they require very little attention, so one can string them up all around the surrounding forest and get on with other things until one fancies harvesting some honey. However, running traditional hives isn’t very scalable to actually making enough money to improve a community, because the honey harvested is of low quality from the destruction-in-the-dark of the hive — it has been tainted by the smoke/burning and the brood has usually been smashed up into it. This translates to an unexceptional product that won’t sell very well, compared to the clean, high-quality honey they can make from a top bar hive with proper training, which can sell well enough that they soon find a higher demand and price. Impact reports a year after projects consistently indicate a rise in community income of 56-66%, and I absolutely love returning to a location a year or more later and seeing the very visible improvement in circumstances.

Ziegler mentions comparative prices with the conclusion that traditional hives are more cost-effective, but with shortcuts such as calling them “free” the numbers aren’t crunchable as given. As it happens, I love to collect this information. I ask every group of beekeepers these questions and so have collected the following data from at least 90 Guinean beekeepers: Traditional hives go for $0.85-$2.14 and produce 5-10 kg, KTBs (Kenyan Topbar hives) go for $31.32-$49.82 and produce around 15-25 kg per year. (Langstroths in Guinea go for around $200 and produce around 50 kg). Long story short, if you crunch those numbers, a KTB is about twice as cost-effective as a traditional hive, and that’s not accounting for the higher price KTB honey typically can fetch.

All that being said, I’m not against traditional hives, they really are such a small investment in time and money that “why not.” And I was quite annoyed when one of my interpreters flat out refused to translate advice I was trying to give them about a potential improvement for traditional hives (an idea borrowed from Ethiopia, removable ends), because he didn’t want to have anything to do with promoting traditional hives.

The negative thesis of Ziegler’s article appears to be that beekeeping development projects are a failure because twenty years later, beekeeping in West Africa is the same as prior to the projects. But I’d like to point out, in light of the clear and measurable short-term results there, as well as the lasting systemic change projects have brought about in other parts of Africa, the lack of change in West Africa is probably due to other factors beyond the viability of beekeeping, such as political instability — Liberia and Sierra Leone, the other countries mentioned in the article, were both wracked by civil war in that time; this seems to me much more deleterious to development than beekeeping training. There’s nothing inherently doomed-to-fail about beekeeping development projects; similar projects have brought about widespread KTB beekeeping in Nigeria and widespread frame hive beekeeping in Kenya/Tanzania/East Africa in general, and consequent good fortune to beekeepers there. Development is hard, the obstacles are many and complex, and beekeeping isn’t a shoo-in either, but the impression the article leaves that beekeeping projects are a dead-end I would venture is counterproductive.

Kris Fricke
Bee Aid International

Greenwashing Syngenta?

I was shocked to say the least, when I read about the new partnership between Bee Corp and Syngenta in the June issue [News and Events, “The Bee Corp partners with Syngenta Seeds and National Science Foundation for pilot study on innovative hive grading technology”]. What shocked me most wasn’t so much that their product Verifli “uses infrared imagery and data analytics to predict the size of the colony inside the hive”; nor that the company is “continually leveraging digital technologies to enable data-driven decisions.” I’ve been a mere hobbyist beekeeper for 39 years, and maybe I’m just too old-fashioned to get excited about this kind of thing.

What was most disturbing was the claim that this new gizmo will help make seed production more ….