Destroying what destroys Oman bees

BY RUQAYA AL KINDI

MUSCAT: Honeybee breeding is an ancient Omani profession practiced for generations and therefore has become an important heritage that is also a source of income for many Omani families.

Both domesticated and wild bees have significantly contributed to the development of agriculture in the Sultanate whereas it is known that more than 75 percent of cross-pollination of plants are contributed by these hardworking pollinators.

But despite thriving conditions of bee breeding in the country, honeybee colonies all over the world are at risk from a variety of threats ranging from pesticides to habitat loss. The biggest threat however is caused by parasites particularly Varroa destructor.

These parasites attack the bees and their cells and cause them to weaken making them vulnerable to infection with other pests and diseases.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries said that it is a global problem that has moved to the Sultanate mainly caused by importing foreign bees and queens. Importation in itself is considered a disservice to the regulations and laws aimed at protecting Omani strains and not mixing them with non-native strains.

Also called the bees destroyer, the Varroa parasite ultimately destroys a hive.

Hassan al Lawati, head of the bee research department at the General Directorate of Agricultural and Animal Research, has pointed out in one of his lectures that the life cycle of the insect extends from 7-8 days until the bee becomes a complete insect.

Al Lawati said that a bee’s lifespan is between two to three months. If the bee cell is not treated for varroa parasite, it will destroy the whole cell.

The Varroa parasite, Al Lawati explained, produces a generation with multiple deformities as it affects their legs, wings, and belly, and members of the bee community are also subject to rapid death.

While observing the hives, the beekeepers may notice this parasite on the body of bee workers and some larvae inside the hexagonal homes. If the beekeeper notices some bees killed and scattered on the base of the cell, bees crawling unable to fly, or that the bees move nervously and unbalanced, then the owner should respond quickly to deal with the parasite.

Finding solutions for farmers isn’t only the responsibility of the government. Students at universities working closely with insects and plants in the colleges of Science and Agricultural Sciences believe that they can participate in finding the solution to this serious problem in the Sultanate.

Nafta Student Company that participated in Injaz Oman Competition 2020, came up with a precious product that aims to limit the spread of this Varroa parasite. The product is a tablet in which ingredients are extracted from local plants.

“The Ministry has already provided a product called “Apil life var” to control the Varroa destructor. Although the ministry’s product does not contain chemicals and meets the recommendations set, it remains a non-local product (imported) and the Sultanate imports it from France,” Arwa Al Anbouri, CEO of the company, explained.

“Some beekeepers said that this product is extremely “concentrated” and if the beekeeper doesn’t follow the instructions and the correct dose, this might be harmful to the bees. While our product is much dilute and constitutes no harm whatsoever to the cell,” she said.

The product has been proven to be effective through several stages. “Our initial experiments were in Sultan Qaboos University’s labs and then the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries ensured that the experiments were accurate and reliable. To find out the appropriate dose for treatment, the product was tested on 12 cells in two months,” Al Anbouri said.

The product is currently available on the market at the National Natural Honey Company. Beekeepers can also reach them through their accounts on social media: Instagram/Twitter: @nafta.om and delivery to all governorates is being catered to. The price of the product is RO 5 for 12 tablets.

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