Toxic pesticides affect beekeeping in Idlib countryside

A beekeeper in the northern countryside of Idlib takes care of his beehives - 18 July 2022 (Enab Baladi / Iyad Abdul Jawad)

A beekeeper in the northern countryside of Idlib takes care of his beehives - 18 July 2022 (Enab Baladi / Iyad Abdul Jawad)

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Enab Baladi – Northern countryside of Idlib

Awad al-Dabal, 55, takes care of the remaining beehives, which he assigned a place away from any potential dangers on the roof of his house in the town of Harbanoush in the northern countryside of Idlib.

Al-Dabal puts water in front of the ground of the hive regularly so that the high temperatures do not cause the death of his 40 hives, to avoid what happened with the other hives that were killed by insecticides.

At the beginning of July, farmers sprayed large areas of agricultural land in Idlib countryside with insecticides to control insects as part of encouraging measures by the Syrian Salvation Government (SSG) operating in Idlib to grow more crops.

“More than 30 beehives died as a result of spraying insecticides, at a time when there was no compensation for this loss, despite the submission of several complaints in this regard,” al-Dabal told Enab Baladi.

Among the most prominent problems that beekeepers face in the process of preserving the life of their bees is the lack of diversity and density of pastures and the lack of appropriate environmental and climatic conditions.

In addition to the high cost of tools needed for beekeeping, which is reflected in the lack of supply in local markets and the high prices of honey during the production season.

Beekeepers without tools

Beekeepers in the northern countryside of Idlib are suffering from securing a suitable place to permanently and stable bee hives; al-Dabal hid his beehives on the roof of his house when he heard news reported by farmers that there was a campaign to spray new insecticides during the coming period for fear of the hives’ death.

“It always happens again, and we do not have any solution. We ask for a place to be allocated to us, but there is no response,” al-Dabal says.

The suffering of beekeepers in the region is not limited to having the right place for their business, but also some of them do not have the tools and equipment required for beekeeping to protect themselves from direct stings, bee sorting tools, or even feeding tools. In the periods between production seasons, bees can be kept by feeding them sugary liquids placed in jars that contain wooden sticks on which bees climb.

In the seasons of production, especially during the summer, it is preferable to provide a small iron water basin for the bees and to put burlap bags in them to prevent the bees from drowning, according to the beekeepers, but all these tools are difficult to provide in the northern region.

Suffering alone

Ramadan Abu Ahmed, 45, transferred beehives from the city of Binnish in the eastern countryside of Idlib to his tent in Maarbouna camp in the northern countryside of Idlib after most of his bees died due to farmers spraying pesticides without any awareness or knowledge of the extent of the danger to his beekeeping project and honey production.

“The beekeeper suffers alone, and no one cares about his interest as he has to solve his problems by himself, which prompted many beekeepers to abandon their profession after the death of all their beehives and their homes turned into wooden boxes only because of the spraying of pesticides without any awareness,” Abu Ahmed told Enab Baladi, who sees the beekeeping project as the most important economic resource through which he aspires to improve the livelihood of his family.

Beekeepers in Idlib and its countryside frequently raise the idea of ​​establishing a union for beekeepers in order to reduce the difficulties they face in practicing their profession in the province, but every time these demands reach a dead end, they do not agree on an opinion despite the difficulties and obstacles that confront them in the same profession.

The profession of beekeeping requires finding suitable pastures so that the bees can collect the flowers’ nectar, but the lack of pastures has caused disputes between the breeders, and some of them accused others of theft, while others demanded the right to expel those who come infringing on their pastures.

Farmers affected too

The damage caused by insecticides varies according to the timing of the spraying, according to what the breeder Radwan al-Hassan, 42, thinks, in his answer to Enab Baladi’s question about the rate of loss of beekeepers.

Al-Hassan added that when the farmer sprays his land in the morning, it is at the beginning of the spread of bees among the nectar plants, and “this also harms the farmer’s crop, as it causes the death of the bee that contributes to the transfer of pollen from one flower to another, and pollinates the crop for free.”

Al-Hassan calls on farmers to postpone the spraying of pesticides until the evening hours when the bees return to their hives, and harmful insects come out of the crops, causing them to be killed, and the effectiveness of the poisonous pesticide decreases until the next morning.

The suffering of spraying insecticides facing beekeepers is repeated every year, as about a thousand hives go out of service after the death of bees in the countryside of Idlib, says breeder al-Hassan, noting the danger of bee transferring poison if they do not die from the nectar and pollen that have been exposed to the pesticide inside the hive, which leads to the death of bee brooders and the possibility of the death of the queen, in addition to the possibility of contamination of honey with poison.

In 2021, al-Hassan and his fellow beekeepers met with the Assistant Minister of Agriculture in the Salvation Government regarding the danger of pesticides and the problems faced by bees, especially the issue of imported pesticides that enter the regions of northern Syria without supervision and whose effectiveness lasts for more than ten days, starting from the date of their spraying where dozens of beekeepers lose their entire bees.

Nevertheless, al-Hassan said that the problems discussed at that meeting have not yet been addressed.

Awareness need

The responsibility for addressing these problems lies with the Ministry of Agriculture of the Salvation Government, especially the Department of Agricultural Affairs and Plant Protection, to educate and support beekeepers and help them form organized groups that address the problem of bee hives dying due to pesticides.

In addition to reducing burdens and expenses, increasing productivity, and establishing nature reserves in which nectar trees and plants are grown.

Head of the Department of Agricultural Affairs and Plant Protection in the Ministry of Agriculture of the Salvation Government, Abdul Latif Ghazal, says that the insecticides used are highly effective, and the owners of agricultural pharmacies should not give farmers such pesticides except in cases of necessity.

Ghazal added to Enab Baladi that the reason for the lack of pastures in the summer and fall within the Idlib governorate and its countryside is “the small agricultural lands in ​​the liberated (opposition) areas and because pastures are few, which causes the death of many bees.”

Solutions

The Ministry of Agriculture in the Salvation Government plans to launch an awareness campaign for farmers in order to reduce the spraying of pesticides, and to spray in the evening with pesticides that have a weak effect on bees,” Ghazal said.

These include low-impact pesticides, which do their intended purpose and are safe for bees, and “there is no program to support beekeepers,” as the programs are focused on supporting strategic crops such as wheat and supporting livestock with fodder.

“If a body representing beekeepers as a union or association is formed so that it becomes possible to prepare a statistic for the number of beekeepers and hives, then a program of support or assistance for beekeepers can be established,” Ghazal says.

Honey production projects in Idlib and its countryside lack their own statistics because they are affected each year by climatic changes, and it is necessary to have a representative of beekeepers in the region, through which this sector can be developed and supported, the head of plant protection in the Agriculture Ministry concluded.

 

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