‘Emirati Queen Bee’ for UAE’s food security is here

15 January 2020

Dubai: The UAE is crossbreeding bees to develop a resilient Queen that can endure the harsh desert climate and sustain crucial pollination rates crucial for the country’s food security, Gulf News can exclusively reveal.

Sabiha Malik, founder of the World Bee Project, referred to the ‘Emirati Queen Bee’ initiative from the Abu Dhabi Agriculture and Food Safety Authority (ADAFSA) in a panel discussion at the Oracle Open World Middle East forum on Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Dubai on Tuesday.

Sabiha Malik, founder of the World Bee Project

“More than three fourths of our food security depends on bee pollination,” said Malik. “We are likely to run out of food by 2056 if the bee population declines. Without pollination there would be no plants and trees and without these there would be low oxygen as plants give out oxygen during photosynthesis. Farmers around the world depend on pollination to grow food.”

“Creating bees that are resilient to the region’s temperature and humidity and suited to the flora and fauna of the region could be a great help in conserving the declining bee population,” she added.

Zahira Nedjraoui, founder of the UAE Beekeeper’s FoundationImage

The ‘Emirati Queen Bee Project’ is being run by ADAFSA under Dr Denis Anderson of the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority’s Research and Development Division. A comment from Dr Anderson was not available.

Gulf News spoke to Zahira Nedjraoui, founder of the UAE Beekeeper’s Foundation who has been given some of the queen bees by ADAFSA for her foundation.

“The ‘Emirati Queen Bee’ is the one of the strongest and most resilient kind of bee,” she said. “It did very well in the summer and is a species that can sustain the temperature, humidity and heat of the desert region. It is specifically suited for the entire Gulf Region, although Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Oman all have their local bee species as well.”

A resilient Queen Bee would be vital for pollination and thus agricultural sustainability

Beekeeping and cloud computing

At the forum it was also revealed that computer tech firm Oracle is collaborating with the World Bee Project on a Global Hive Network using AI and cloud computing to track and retrieve data through sensors attached to hives.

Amanda Jobbins, Senior Vice President of Oracle said, “Oracle’s mission is to see data in new ways. Every minute activity in the hives is recorded through sensors and data is uploaded by bee keepers through oracle cloud computing systems, the data is then collated and sent to an autonomous data base and is playing an important role in educating beekeepers about the threats to bee conservation.”


Amanda Jobbins, Senior Vice President of Oracle


Tracking bee behaviour vital

George Clouston, a leading beekeeper from the UK explained how the sensors helped beekeepers, “The sensors record temperature, humidity, waste etc in the hives and give a general picture of the activity of a colony – the health of the bees and the hive. The data base can be used in different ways. For instance there was one instance when a bee farmer realised that all the bees in his hive had dropped dead. Going back to the data, he realised the temperature had risen to 46 degrees celsius in the hive and the noise of the bees fanning their wings was also recorded. The farmer had been moving the hive and the temperature had risen, the bees had tried to ventilate themselves with the fanning but could not survive the spike. Such information is very crucial to maintaining homeostatis in the hive and can be used by other farmers. Prices of sensors are also coming down,” he added.

This frame shows how prolific the Emirati Queen Bee is at laying eggs
Image Credit: UAE Bee Keeper’s Foundation


Why should the world care about pollination and bee populations?

Bees just don’t sting and produce honey, they are one of the most crucial links in our food chain as pollinators. Pollination is the act of transferring pollen grains from the male anther of a flower to the female stigma. Bees act as natural agents of pollination along with some other species such as wasps, beetles, bats and birds. The world has experimented with artificial pollination and robot bees, but these are not able to provide the same level of nutrition in food products as naturally pollinated food produce. Thus why bee conservation is so crucial.

Declining populations

The number of bees in the world is declining, a great threat to the entire biosphere. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation stated that there are 100 crop species that provide 90 per cent of food around the world and more than 70 of these are pollinated by bees. Without bees, it’s estimated that there would be half the amount of fruit and vegetables in our supermarkets. If we want our species to continue, we must save the bees according to a 2016 report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

The world has over 20,000 varieties of wild bees and honey bees and over a million hives globally. However, with climate change and other factors the bee population is fast decimating and Oracle has teemed up with the World Bee Project to educate beekeepers on collating big data on bee conservation. Preservation of the broods is critical for food security and sustainability as bee populations worldwide are in decline due to human activity and climate change.

Beekeeping in the UAE

There are two types of honey bees in the UAE, wild and domesticated. For domesticated bees the UAE imports about 95 per cent of the queens that are necessary to make honey – which represents 500,000 packaged bee colonies every year – from Egypt, Oman and Yemen. Unfortunately, these bees are not equipped to survive the UAE’s harsh climate. Local summers, where temperatures reach 50 degrees Celsius, combined with pests, parasites, shortage of foraging plants and poor hive management lead to heavy hive losses every summer, which is why the new crossbreed bee is so important. Otherwise the UAE is suitable for beekeeping given its availability of natural pastures. To escape the heat beekeepers often move to the mountains. UAE produces Acacia, Sidr, Frangula Alnus, Ghaf and Acacia Tortilis honey, from early September to November for Sidr and from April to June for Acacia Tortilis. Both are considered the best in the world, are the tastiest and thus the most expensive.

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