At the foot of the monumental apiary Inzerki, in the southwestern part of Morocco, silence has replaced the buzz of bees. Silence synonymous with an ecological catastrophe triggered by the disappearance of the colonies. A phenomenon observed at the national level caused by an extraordinary drought and climate change, according to experts.
“At this time of year, the room is supposed to be filled with the buzz of the bees. Today, they are dying at a dizzying pace“, Beekeeper Brahim Chatoui apologizes to AFP, which inspects his swarms under a scorching sun.
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As family tradition dictates, his 90 hives – he lost 40 in less than two months – are located in the Inzerki hive, in the heart of the argan tree biosphere reserve, one of the richest in the country.
“Other families have simply decided to give up beekeeping due to lack of funds.“, testifies Mr. Chatoui. Considered”the oldest and largest traditional collective apiary in the world“, according to specialists, this site from 1850 is not the only one affected by the mortality of Hymenoptera.
Other Moroccan regions are affected. “The losses are significant in the Beni Mellal-Khénifra region (center) alone, estimated at 100,000 hives since August“, Alerted Mohamed Choudani of the Union of Moroccan Beekeepers (UAM).
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The country had 910,000 hives run by 36,000 beekeepers registered in 2019 against just under 570,000 in 2009, according to official statistics.
“Unheard of phenomenon”
This year, the extent of the bees’ disappearance is such that the government has released aid to beekeepers of 130 million dirhams (more than 12 million euros) – “still not inserted“, according to Mr. Choudani – and launched a comprehensive investigation into the disaster.
“This desertion of hives is an unprecedented phenomenon in Morocco“, notes the National Office for Food Safety (ONSSA), which is responsible for the study, which attributes climate change to” the syndrome of bicolonial collapse “. ONSSA rules out the hypothesis of diseases.
Bioscience researcher Antonin Adam prefers him as an explanation for the worst drought in 40 years that has hit this North African country. Moreover, “drought can now be exacerbated by bees’ vulnerability to disease, transhumance, intensive farming practices, but also the country’s desire to increase its honey production“, analyzes the scientist who has studied the beekeeping environment in the southwestern part of Morocco.
Honey production has increased 69% in 10 years, from 4.7 tonnes in 2009 to almost 8 tonnes in 2019, with more than one billion dirhams (101 million euros) in turnover, according to the Ministry of Agriculture. For beekeeper Brahim Chatoui, “Drought is a normal cycle. It is its intensity that worries today“.
In Inzerki, the catastrophe is twofold: organic, 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 rooms of equal size.
Inside the cottages are arranged cylindrical hives made of woven reeds wrapped in soil mixed with cow dung. But it is enough to turn to see the extent of the decay. Parts of the bee – recently listed as a national heritage site – are collapsing, raising fears of the worst.
For Hassan Benalayat, a researcher in human geography, the degradation of the apiary is the consequence of several upheavals in the region, especially the modernization of the beekeeping sector and rural emigration, but also global warming. Previously, 80 families deposited their bees there, today there are only about twenty.
“It is urgent to bring this unique heritage to life“, Mr Benalayat pleads.”The situation is critical, but that does not mean I will give up“, assures Mr Chatoui, who, together with other villagers, set up an association to protect the apiary. They fought to register it in Morocco’s heritage.
They planted aromatic herbs to withstand the dryness of the soil and are now striving to rehabilitate the apiary. “The goal 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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