Photo: The Mainichi
You have read about the crisis US farmers are experiencing as honey bees are affected by Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Has it hit Japan, or what is going on? Why are bee keepers like Osamu Mamuro, president of Mamuro Bee Farm in Yoshimi, Saitama Prefecture so worried this year?
Japan is home to many small-scale beekeeping operations, and has a long history of bee keeping. Unlike the US, beekeepers in Japan do not often transport their honeybees long distances, meaning there is less stress that could affect the survival of the insects. There are no genetically modified crops cultivated commercially here. The honeybee shortage this year is noted as there has been a sharp decrease in the number of bees kept by beekeepers. But noone seems to know "why" this is happening.
Photo: Pollinator Paradise
Japan's fruit and vegetable farmers depend on honeybees to pollinate their plants, and the shortage of bees is now creating fears of a produce and fruit shortage.
Traditional methods of beekeeping persist along the ancient roads of Japan's mountainous regions, according to Manabu Akaike, Japan for Sustainability. From the 8th century on, honey was a precious battlefield supply, and historians guess that honey-cultivation was encouraged starting around this time. The story of Japanese beekeeping is also the story of a traditional regional industry that can be put into active use today as a valuable resource for regional economic stimulation as well as for research on nature-based manufacturing methods.
Photos from Blueberry Farmers T&F;
The Mainichi talked to Kiyoshi Kimura, head researcher at the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science, who recently visited the United States to study CCD:
"There have been small-scale honeybee losses for many years, but a massive collapse like they had in the U.S. is very unusual," says Kimura, comparing the Japanese problem with the American CCD crisis of three years ago. "We must investigate the situation in Japan."
It is estimated that over 90 crops are benefited by honey bee pollination and the value of this service to the United States agriculture was at least 18 billion dollars in 1998, according to Dr. M. (Tom) Sanford in Florida, who also describes how Japanese apple growers first discovered that bees were helpful to increase apple harvest - in the 1930s. Fascinating stuff:
An apple grower, E. Matsuyama in Japan, noticed these small brown bees working his apple blossoms and nesting in nail holes in his wooden house in the 1930's. Soon he made more nail holes in his house, and as the bees multiplied and his apple crop prospered; he switched to cutting sections of hollow reeds for the bees to nest in. Hornfaced bees pollinate a third of Japan's apples, and their use is spreading in North American and China.
From the flowering of the ume (Japanese apricot) trees in February, to the making of soba noodles in November, farmers tend to their land and crops, while the honeybees work alongside them, engaged in their own "farming" as they gather nectar and prepared to propagate. Farming and bee cultivation are strongly linked in the cyclical nature of their enterprises.
Every effort will be needed to make sure that important pollinators like honey bees are thriving.
Written by Martin Frid at greenz.jp