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JIS News

A number of tests are currently being carried out to ascertain the best methodology to combat the small hive beetle, a pest that affects beehives and could have a devastating effect on the bee and honey industries, if not brought under control.

And, with the honey industry poised for take off, with huge markets identified both locally and overseas, all efforts are being made to control the pest, says Hugh Smith, Senior Plant Protection Officer in the Apiculture Unit of the Ministry of Agriculture.

“If the small hive beetle is not kept under control, it will have serious implications for honey,” Mr. Smith points out, adding that, “it will impact on honey production, quality and availability of the product for both the local and the export markets”.

He tells JIS News, that the Unit is seeking to employ an integrated pest management system to control the beetle, and the process involves utilizing a combination of natural, biological and chemical elements.

According Mr. Smith, the integrated approach is not yet fully implemented as the non-chemical aspect of the programme is still being developed. “So far, what we have done is, we have used the initial point of survey to determine exactly where this pest is, then we have intervened using a one stop chemical approach in an effort to break the cycle or decrease the population of this pest,” he explains.

The chemical process was successfully used to treat all the affected apiaries in Kingston and St. Andrew and St. Catherine. As a result, he says, “we have seen a decrease in the small hive beetle population in these parishes.”

The checkmite, is the chemical being used for treatment, and it is only available at the Unit. “It is strictly monitored and is put in at a certain time using specific tools and procedures that will reduce the chance of high product contamination and this is only done through the Apiculture Unit,” Mr. Smith stresses.

For farmers who fear that the use of the chemical may contaminate their honey, Mr. Smith explains that a barrier is placed between the honey and the checkmite if honey is being stored at the time of treatment. “The first tool is to make sure the product is used on the bottom board of the beehive, where a strip of corrugated cardboard is placed on the bottom board and the chemical is placed under this to reduce access of the honey bee to the checkmite and also give maximum access to the small hive beetle,” he points out.

The chemical is allowed to remain on the hive for about six weeks and from the start of treatment to the point when the chemical is removed, it is usually the responsibility of the Unit’s extension staff to monitor the process with assistance from the beekeeper.

Mr. Smith further tells JIS News, that the Apiculture Unit is working on the development of mechanical traps and so far, four interception traps have been set up and the first phase of research on the traps has been conducted.

“The traps to date, we know they have worked. They were able to reduce the population in the tested site and the reduction of the population was satisfactory to the research team,” Mr. Smith says, adding that there has since been some modification to the traps to increase efficacy.

The Unit hopes to begin the second phase of testing before the end of 2005, so that the full programme of integrated control can be in place by February of 2006.

In the meantime, Mr. Smith says, “we will continue our training programme where we keep training sessions per parish and also using JIS and other communication tools to pass this information on. We also will prepare brochures for beekeepers to get as much information as is required for the use and management of these interception traps.”

The small hive beetle was first discovered in Jamaica last August in apiaries in Kingston and St. Andrew. Since that time, the Agriculture Ministry has employed a number of measures to contain and eradicate the pest, with extension officers reporting a reduction in the pest population in the affected areas.

Although contamination was largely confined to the two initial parishes, the beetle was later discovered at an apiary in Central St. Catherine. The affected beekeeper sought assistance from the Apiculture Unit, which put in place the necessary management tools required for immediate control.

“Right now, it is in Kingston, St. Andrew and St. Catherine but it is still a threat to the entire country and if not properly managed from the farmer’s side or from the different integrated programmes, then it could be a severe threat to our hive product output,” Mr. Smith says.

It is expected that the small hive beetle will eventually spread to other parishes overtime as the honeybees move from the affected sites into other areas. “The small hive beetle . it can move very far within a short time. It is a case where all apiaries in Jamaica will be affected at some point,” Mr. Smith tells JIS News.

He says that farmers can protect their hives by strengthening their bee population and keeping honeybees that are able to clean the hives effectively.

“The farmers will have to select breeding stock that will give high cleaning ability. If the honey bees are able to clean their hives, this will remove some of the eggs of the small hive beetle from the bee hive and this will impact on the small hive beetle population,” he notes.

He is also encouraging beekeepers in the affected parishes, to keep their apiaries where they are presently. He advises those seeking to relocate, to check with the Apiculture Unit of the Ministry to receive clearance from the Chief Plant Protection Officer.

While the small hive beetle has not been eradicated, Mr. Smith believes it is under control as a result of the various methodologies, which have been implemented to fight this pest.

“If there was nothing done to the small hive beetle in terms of a control programme, then this beetle would probably be in all parishes at the moment. Our sensitization campaign, our different community meetings, our parish meetings, our regional seminars, really sensitize the beekeepers on the importance of monitoring their hives for small hive beetle,” he tells JIS News. He also commends the beekeepers, noting that without their co-operation, the programme would not have been as successful.

Meanwhile, beekeepers are being invited to participate in the Caribbean Beekeeping Congress, which will be held in Trinidad and Tobago from November 14-18. Interested persons are being asked to contact the Beekeeping Unit at Bodles for further details on the event.