WCBA Chairman Chris Nicklin reflects on the association’s activities over the past year.
To say 2023 was an eventful year in local beekeeping would be an understatement. Western Cape honey made its debut at one of the world’s leading honey competitions and we experienced some of the worst flooding in living memory, destroying an incalculable number of hives.
Top of the World
The undoubted highlight of the year was Dawid Rooifontein’s triumph at the UK National Honey Show. Dawid, a WCBA member from St Helena Bay on the West Coast, was placed first in the show’s international category, while another WCBA member, Audrey de Jongh of Bergvliet, came third. Several other WCBA members also shared in the honours.
Our inaugural Cape honey show and competition, held to coincide with our AGM at Spice Route Destination in Paarl in March,seemingly lit a fire under our members. Clayton Sanderson-Perrin went on to win ‘Best Honey’ at the Apimondia Africa congress in Durban in March, followed by a plethora of honey and mead entries for our first NAMPO competition in Bredasdorp in September. By the time the entries of the UK show were dispatched, it was clear the competition bug had well and truly bitten our members.
We plan a full schedule of competitions again in 2024, including launching a new category for commercial beekeepers to present their honey ranges, Very excitingly, a trio of top honey judges from the UK will be participating in the Cape honey festival, to be held alongside our AGM in mid-March.
Climate Change Challenges
The double Cape floods were devastating for many of our members – especially those with hives in the Olifants and Berg River areas. Pieter Loubser, who runs a large commercial beekeeping operation along the West Coast, describes having to track down missing hives in deep mud and spotting frames dangling from the branches of trees, indicating how high the floodwaters had been. WCBA put out a statement appealing to the public to alert beekeepers about any hives that may have washed up down river.
I lost a whole apiary in the Overberg floods in September. For me, it was a salutary reminder to take into account the likelihood of increasingly extreme weather conditions when locating apiaries near water courses. One of the world’s leading experts on the impact of climate change on beekeeping, Etienne Bruneau, delivered a hard-hitting lecture at Apimondia Africa in Durban, detailing the particular vulnerability of our continent. As beekeepers, we might feel there’s very little we can do, but it’s essential that we assist in efforts to propagate forage for our bees, or at the very least, contribute constructively to the discussions. We can’t just leave it to others, such as the farmers, on whose property we locate our hives, to remedy forage decline.
Fighting for Forage
Riette Van Zyl, our Secretary and Treasurer, has been playing a very active role in giving momentum to the work of the Bee Forage Task Team. This is a body that involves the Western Cape Department of Agriculture, other stakeholders in the agricultural industry, and the scientific community. Several programmes have been launched, the details of which will be announced as soon as possible.
Riette also delivered a series of well-received presentations to important sectors such as the wine industry on the value of cover crops. I can confidently say that we are increasingly finding very receptive audiences as we continually try to push the message of the forage crisis facing our honeybees and other pollinators in the Western Cape.
Earlier this month, the WCBA was invited to participate in a Honeybee Status Workshop as part of a new National Biodiversity Assessment, organized by SANBI, the South African National Biodiversity Institute. This was a very worthwhile exercise, with the WCBA representatives able to provide the scientists and ecologists with some important insights into our beekeeping industry and its perceived, and sometimes misunderstood, effects on our indigenous honeybee sub-species.
On other industry issues, the WCBA committee has been engaging with a leading agricultural business consultancy to settle on a method to determine a fair and accurate guideline pollination tariff. It’s clear that our pollinating members value this information when negotiating a rate with growers to convince them of the significant costs involved in preparing an optimal pollination unit.
The outcome of these deliberations will be shared with members as soon as possible, mindful that as a representative body we are repeatedly cautioned against issuing a set pollination tariff as this could be construed as price-fixing.
As an association, we continue to promote best practice in the provision of pollination services. We had a meeting with a pollination company to express our concerns about the nature of their operation and was also approached by a grower to provide advice in a claim for substantial loss in crop yield, allegedly due to a very unsatisfactory pollination service.
WCBA committee, specifically vice-chairman, Brendan Ashley-Cooper, Charles Salmon and Herman Brink, organised successful pollination workshops with grower bodies like Hortgro, as well as “Bee Health” farmers’ days in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture, the Agricultural Research Council and Barenbrug, a company which specializes in cover crops. A very well-attended event in George was organised jointly with our colleagues in the Southern Cape Bee Industry Association.
This year, the WCBA also sought to give impetus to efforts to try to properly open up international export markets for local honey producers. A memorandum was sent to SABIO, the umbrella beekeeping organisation, imploring them to engage more proactively with the national Department of Agriculture on this matter, which stymies local producers who may have an interest in supplying niche markets with some of the exquisite honeys we are able to produce.
As a local beekeeper organization, we have had very productive meetings with our provincial Department of Agriculture, specifically its Agri-processing division, and Wesgro, the governmental agency which promotes economic activity in the Western Cape.
Some people argue that honey production in South Africa isn’t of sufficient scale to warrant possibly expensive regulatory changes regarding its export, but I believe our beekeepers must have the option. Mauritius, which is able to export honey to lucrative markets in the European Union, produces a mere 25 tons a year!
Safeguarding our Honey Brand
With the impending changes to food labelling in South Africa, the WCBA also made a submission to the national Department of Health, principally regarding the inviolability of the word “honey”. As repeated attempts are made to use “honey” to describe a range of so-called “alternatives”, it is of paramount importance that the word is reserved for an age-old product that is solely “the work of the bees”. This is especially important at a time when there is a lack of consumer confidence about the purity of much of the honey on our supermarket shelves.
With 2023 rapidly drawing to an end, I’d like to wish all our members a peaceful holiday season and a prosperous beekeeping year ahead. I’d also like to express much gratitude to my fellow committee members for all the hard work and effort they have contributed this year. As the voice of Western Cape beekeeping, we also receive invaluable support from people like Mike Allsopp of the Agriculture Research Council – thanks Mike for so willingly sharing your expert knowledge of the Cape honeybee and how we can be better beekeepers!
In the run up to the 2024 AGM, we’ll be calling on members who believe they are able to make a special contribution to the work of the WCBA by joining the committee. We’re all aware of the challenges facing local beekeeping – some would say existential threat. So, please volunteer your time and expertise if you believe it will help build a more promising future for beekeeping in the Western Cape.
Best wishes to you all,