SANBI’s Biodiversity Research, Assessment and Monitoring Division implemented two interesting projects on pollination in crop agriculture and the honey bee, both of which happened between 2010 and 2015.

Background and reason for the projects:

Insect, birds, bats and other animals serve as pollinators while they forage for their own survival, consequently providing a free ecosystem service upon which we depend. The declines in pollinator populations led to studies being undertaken in 7 developing countries as part of the “GEF/UNEP/FAO Global Pollination Project”, which took place from 2011 to early 2015.

Findings from the studies of monitoring pollinators in three agricultural crops (apples, onion seed and oil sunflowers) in South Africa show that the honey bee (Apis mellifera capensis in the winter rainfall region, and Apis mellifera scutellata in the summer rainfall region) are the most important crop pollinators. Most of the farmers rely on managed honey bees to ensure adequate pollination, and usually pay beekeepers to provide the managed honey bees as they are aware that deficits in yield or quality can be prevented through the use of managed honey bee pollinators.

As South Africa’s honey bees are indigenous and an integral part of our biodiversity, SANBI decided to take the research one step further and investigate the resources underpinning the managed honey bee industry. According to researchers, a lack of good quality and  variety of forage (consisting of nectar for carbohydrates and pollen for protein) can lead to unhealthy honey bee colonies that are more vulnerable to pests and diseases. This, in turn, can lead to insufficient pollination of our important agricultural crop flowers, leading to decreased yield or quality of the food crop. The Honeybee Forage Project, a project funded by the Working for Water Programme, Department of Environmental Affairs and implemented by SANBI and the Agricultural Research Council, was therefore undertaken and showed that eucalyptus trees, certain crops such as sunflower, citrus and canola, indigenous trees and shrubs, flowering plants in suburban gardens and even roadside wildflowers or weeds are all critically important to South Africa’s indigenous honey bees.

All the results of both projects are available for download:

Academic papers and theses produced through the project:

Brand, Mariette Rieks. Pollination ecosystem services to onion hybrid seed crops in South Africa.

Masehela, Tlou Samuel: An assessment of different beekeeping practices in South Africa based on their needs (bee forage use), services (pollination services) and threats (hive theft and vandalism).

Hutton-Squire, James Peter: Historical relationship of the honeybee (Apis Mellifera) and its forage; and the current state of beekeeping within South Africa

Project Reports:

Report on Deficit Work

Report on Monitoring Work

Useful information for landowners and researchers:

Brochure English: Honeybees in South Africa – what landowners can do to help

Brochure Afrikaans: Heuningbye in Suid-Afrika – wat grondeienaars kan doen om te help

Use this LUCID Key to African Bee Genera as an online tool to help identify bees (you will need Java on your machine to make use of this online tool).

Join the Mendeley group for the African Pollinator Initiative to network with others that are interested in pollination and pollinators.

Infosheet- Key messages about pollinators in South Africa

Infosheet- South Africa’s indigenous honey bees

Infosheet- Eucalyptus trees as honey bee forage

Infosheet- Indigenous plants as honey bee forage

Infosheet- Crop plants as honey bee forage

Booklet: Gums & Bees – A roadmap for landowners in South Africa  (Please note that while every effort has been taken to make sure this booklet contains accurate advice about which eucalypts in which circumstances need to be controlled as per the NEMBA AIS Regulations, it is advisable that you consult an expert.)

Lists of bee-friendly plants:

Plants important to South African beekeepers as honey bee forage

Kirstenbosch NBG List of Plants that Provide Food for Honey Bees


Beeplants of South Africa book:

“Beeplants of South Africa” is a review of plants utilised by honey bees in the region, authored by Mr Martin Johannsmeier. Data in the book shows a “bee plant value” for each plant species that gives an indication of how valuable the species are as honey bee forage. The book also contains additional information such as the flowering times of species, its common name, its morphology, its distribution and origin. Colour photographs of the main honey plants, as well as some representatives of important beeplant groups, are provided as a first step in plant identification.

The book (ISBN 978-1-928224-17-4) is available in hardcover A4. Price: R450.00. It can be purchased from the SANBI Bookshop.


Case Studies/ Profiles

Many farmers and beekeepers in South Africa undertake innovative practices relating to pollination issues, and it is unfortunate that we cannot profile more. We hope that the profiles/ case studies that we have chosen to present here are understood as being just some of the many interesting practices that could inspire discussion and consideration, and not as the championing of any particular practice or person.

Paul Ransom – beekeeper

Johan Bekker – vegetable seed farmer

Mike Mac Intyre – beekeeper

Dirk Daling – sunflower seed farmer

Theunis Engelbrecht – beekeeper

Capacity Building materials:

Contact Details

For any further information about the projects, please contact: Carol Poole
Kirstenbosch Research Centre (Cape Town)
Tel: +27 (0)21 799 8695

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