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In Morocco, the bees of the oldest apiary in the world are dying “at a dizzying rate”

A beekeeper works in the apiary in Inzerki, Morocco, February 26, 2020.

At the foot of the monumental apiary of Inzerki, in the south-west of Morocco, silence has replaced the buzzing of bees. Silence synonymous with an ecological disaster precipitated by the disappearance of the colonies. A phenomenon observed on a national scale and caused by an extraordinary drought and climate change, according to experts.

“At this time of year, space is supposed to be filled with the buzz of bees. Today, they are dying at a dizzying rate”, deplores beekeeper Brahim Chatoui to AFP as he inspects his swarms under a blazing sun. As family tradition dictates, his 90 hives – he lost 40 in less than two months – are located in the Inzerki bee house, in the heart of the argan tree biosphere reserve, one of the richest from the country. “Other families have simply decided to give up beekeeping, for lack of means”testifies Mr. Chatoui.

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Considered as “the oldest and largest traditional collective apiary in the world”, according to specialists, this site dating from 1850 is not the only one hit by the mortality of Hymenoptera. Other Moroccan regions are affected. “The losses are considerable in the Beni Mellal-Khénifra region alone [centre], they are estimated at 100,000 hives since August »is alarmed Mohamed Choudani, of the Union of Moroccan beekeepers (UAM).

“An unprecedented phenomenon”

This year, the extent of the disappearance of bees is such that the government has released aid to beekeepers of 130 million dirhams (more than 12 million euros) – “still not deployed”according to Mr. Choudani – and launched an extensive investigation into the disaster. “This desertion of hives is an unprecedented phenomenon in Morocco”notes the National Food Safety Office (Onssa), in charge of the investigation, which attributes to climate change the “Colony Collapse Syndrome”. Onssa excludes the disease hypothesis.

Researcher in bee science, Antonin Adam favors as an explanation the worst drought to hit Morocco for forty years. Besides, “Drought can today be amplified by the vulnerability of bees to diseases, transhumance, intensive agricultural practices, but also to the country’s desire to increase its honey production”analyzes the scientist, who has studied the beekeeping environment in the south-west of Morocco.

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Honey production has jumped 69% in ten years, from 4.7 tonnes in 2009 to nearly 8 tonnes in 2019, with more than 1 billion dirhams (101 million euros) in turnover, according to the ministry of agriculture. The country had 910,000 hives operated by 36,000 beekeepers recorded in 2019, compared to just under 570,000 in 2009, according to official statistics.

A heritage disaster

For beekeeper Brahim Chatoui, “drought is a normal cycle, it is its intensity that is worrying today”. In Inzerki, the disaster is twofold: ecological but also heritage. From a distance, the apiary is striking for its structure, which is both simple and complex, built of earth and wood on five levels divided into compartments of equal size. Inside the huts are arranged cylindrical hives made of woven reeds, wrapped in earth mixed with cow dung. But it is enough to approach to see the extent of the dilapidation. Parts of the bee tree are collapsing, raising fears of the worst.

For Hassan Benalayat, researcher in human geography, the degradation of the apiary is the consequence of several upheavals in the region, in particular the modernization of the beekeeping sector and the rural exodus, but also global warming. In the past, 80 families deposited their bees there; there are only about twenty of them today. “It is urgent to bring this exceptional heritage to life”argues Mr. Benalayat.

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“The situation is critical, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to give up”, assures Mr. Chatoui, who has created an association with other villagers to protect the apiary. They fought to include it in the heritage of Morocco. They planted aromatic herbs, in order to resist the aridity of the soil, and are now striving to rehabilitate the apiary. “The objective is not honey, but above all that the apiary is preserved and that my bees survive while waiting for better days”hopes the beekeeper.

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The World with AFP

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