During the visit to the Bee Care Center in Monheim, Germany. (From l. to r.) Dr Nkoba Kiatoko (icipe), Kenya; Dr Juliana Jaramillo, Global Scientist at Bayer Bee Care and coordinator of the study and Frank van Langevelde, Associate Professor in the Resource Ecology group of Wageningen University, The Netherlands, who is also supporting this project.
There are some 20,000 different reported species of bee around the world which can contribute to pollination of many plant species and crops.
As the human population continues to rise steadily, there is an increasing demand for more food to feed everyone. With this comes a higher demand for pollinators to help improve yields, either in open fields or for protected cultivation under netting or behind glass. The latter being the fastest growing segment within global agriculture.
So which are the best pollinators for efficient and effective pollination of crops? This is the central question of a new four-year collaboration project in Kenya, in which promising native bee species are sought for the efficient pollination of various horticultural crops.
The well-known and more commonly used honey bee (Apis mellifera) and bumble bee (Bombus) species may not always be the most suitable pollinator in tropical and subtropical regions (IPBES 2016). Here, other bee species could provide better options for use as pollination service providers for locally-grown crops because they are better adapted to the local environmental conditions and plants in those areas
One species being looked at are the stingless bees, which live in colonies and also produce honey, as food to sustain their colony. They are potentially suitable to be used for pollination services since the colonies don’t die and can last for many years; they are stingless, so very good for inhabited areas and they forage well in enclosed environments.
With students, Dr Nkoba Kiatoko (center) from icipe in Kenya, is conducting studies to look at stingless bees as pollination service providers.
Bayer is collaborating with several partners in this project, the main one being the International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) in Kenya. Other partners include Wageningen University in the Netherlands, the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, as well as different African governments.
The project manager on the African side, EU Bee Health Reference Laboratory Scientist at the International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology at icipe, Dr Nkoba Kiatoko, visited the Bee Care Center in Monheim, Germany, this month to present the objectives of the project.
The aims are two-fold. One is to evaluate the pollination efficiency of ten stingless bee species in eight vegetable crops under greenhouse conditions and also Macadamia crops. The other will look at molecular and conventional taxonomic characterization of African stingless bee species, in several countries including Cameroon, Ethiopia, D.R. Congo, Madagascar, Tanzania (Zanzibar), Botswana and Kenya. Through this, it will be possible to determine which bees are found across different regions or countries and those which are endemic to specific areas.
This information, once known, can be very useful in supporting local communities in Kenya, as Dr Kiatoko explained, “The knowledge relating to pollination efficiency between different African stingless bee species and African honey bees on some greenhouse horticulture crops will help regarding yield and quality of vegetables. Also, understanding pollinators for Macadamia nuts in different landscapes may benefit production in those regions. Who knows, through the process of characterizing the stingless bee species which will be published in a manual, we may even discover some new species of interest to science too. All in all, the results from this work will significantly contribute to the Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa 2024 (STISA).”
This project is an example of how the Bee Care Science Program not only tackles some of the main threats to pollinator health but also key opportunities for pollinators and pollination.