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Lab tests to determine pesticide effect on bee population

Published:Wednesday | May 20, 2015 | 12:00 AMTameka Gordon

The $7-million project to determine whether the chemical neonicotinoid found in some imported pesticide is seeping into honey produced locally, can now make headway amid a slight uptick in honey

production, says the head of the Pesticides Review Committee, Dr Dwight Robinson.

The project was launched two years ago but the researchers are yet to do actual testing, as not enough honey was being produced for collection of samples.

The Apiary Culture Unit of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries will collect the samples which are to be tested by the University of the West Indies (UWI) and private labs, he said. However, not all of the financing for the project has been tied down and the results of the tests may be more than a year away.

The ministry launched the project in 2013 after bee farmers complained that neonicotinoid-based pesticides used on plants from which bees gather nectar appeared to be impacting the yield from their hives amid declining honey production.

The Pesticides Control Autho-rity formed the Neonicotinoid Subcommittee to lead research that would test the farmers' claim. Robinson, an entomologist and lecturer in pest and pesticide management at UWI, heads both the Pesticides Review Committee and the Neonicotinoid Subcommittee.

The data on the bee population is sparse. Robinson himself said he is awaiting information from the bee farmers.

Honey production has been on the decline since around 2010 with production hovering at about 13,000 tonnes two to three years ago. There are roughly 2,500 beekeepers across Jamaica, whose investments have been estimated at about $1 billion, the Ministry of Agriculture previously indicated.

Of the $7.1 million needed to fund the research project, Robinson said $4.4 million is being offset by stakeholders who have pledged to assist with transport and labour. Bee farmers are also contemplating a cess to raise the rest of the funds.

"So what we really need in terms of hard cash is $2.7 million," said the researcher, while noting that a $1.5-million payment for the laboratories that will conduct testings remains to be funded.

"Even though the labs are willing to give the labour, it is hard to ask them to pay for the reagents," he said.

Local pesticides dealers previously pledged monetary assistance but have since backed away from funding the venture, said Robinson. The Bee Farmers' Association remains committed, however.

They have "indicated a willingness to explore the possibility of doing a cess on beekeepers to ensure that we can pay for the residue analysis of the honey and the different products".

The project will take another 13 months to complete, the researcher said.

Already, the committee has mapped the areas in which neonicotinoids is recommended for use on crops and is awaiting data from bee farmers on the major areas in which bees are reared.

"We are going to overlay it then look at areas where the bees are put at risk. Then we will probably make a recommendations to the authorities that they should declare some of those areas neonicotinoid-free zones in order to protect our bees," Robinson said, adding that the radius may be as much as five miles.

Jamaica currently imports two main types of neonicotinoids - acetamiprid, which is recommended for use on a wide variety of vegetables; and thiamethoxan, recommended for use in the fruit tree industry, Robinson said.

Europe has already banned the use of neonicotinoids, and the United States is still assessing the impact on its bee industry.

Robinson said local Jamaica use of neonicotinoids is minimal due to the high cost of the chemical compared to traditional pesticides. Jamaica imported 3,158 kilogrammes of acetamiprid and 505 kilogrammes of thiamethoxan over a five-year period to 2013.

The chemicals are typically used to treat crops grown in St Elizabeth, northern and western Manchester, and parts of St Ann, Clarendon and St Catherine.