Theft of beehives spikes as demand for pollinators increases

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The incidence of theft of beehives and honey increased significantly during the COVID-19-related national lockdown. Photo: FW Archive

Beekeeping has offered a lifeline to many rural communities, as this essential service allowed them to generate an income during the COVID-19-related lockdown.

However, the spike in demand for honey and pollination services during this time also meant that bee and honey theft was rife.

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Guy Stubbs, founder of the African Honey Bee programme, which trained rural populations in beekeeping to provide an income stream in isolated areas, said that the year had shown some unexpectedly encouraging results.

“Collectively, since the beginning of the year, the participating families have harvested about 5t of honey, earning close to R360 000 despite the national lockdown.”

He said the communities had also used the opportunity to branch into other food production areas. “All 100 families in Sokhulu, KwaZulu-Natal were producing honey, while 85 were growing vegetables, 27 were producing eggs and 39 were producing chickens for meat.”

Commercial beekeepers also benefitted from the increased demand for honey. Kobus Visser, manager of Bee Naked Honey Farms, said there had been significant growth in demand for honey over the past six months, which he believed was the case for many natural products with health properties.

“However, the increase in demand over the years has also resulted in an increase in theft. This year, we changed our operations to make our hives more theft-proof, which was a substantial change to the business, but has meant that we have had less incidence of theft than usual.”

Inge Lotter, chairperson of the Mpumalanga Beekeepers’ Association, however, noted that between April and September, there had been an increase in theft in the Lowveld.

“There are those that are just after the honey, who then not only break the hives, but kill the bees as well. Then there are those who steal the entire hive so that they can start their own pollination services, which are in high demand with macadamia farmers.”

She said farmers making use of pollination services needed to ask for proof of registration from the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development and check to see whether the registration numbers on the hives corresponded with those on the certificate.