Honey might be a deliciously sweet golden liquid produced by bees, but this seemingly simple food substance plays a far bigger role in our lives than we may realise.

We hope that after reading this short article, the critical place that these little creatures occupy in our ecosystem will become more apparent and each of us will be encouraged to nurture them in our daily lives – see how here and here.

Honey and other bee byproducts contain an abundance of nutrients and are often incorporated in the food that we consume, as well as many health and cosmetic products that we use on a daily basis. Check some of the products in your pantry, medicine drawer and bathroom cabinet to see which contain some form of a bee byproduct – you might be surprised at what you find.

While humanity benefits hugely from the food substances bees produce, the greatest importance of honeybees to agriculture is actually their work as crop pollinators. Pollination is the “act of transferring grains from the male anther of a flower to the female stigma”, usually in the form of a seed, in order to produce more plants. There are several ways pollination can take place including travelling via wind and water, but scientists estimate that there are 200 000 to 350 000 different animal species called “pollinators” that also help to fulfill this role – from birds to bats, marsupials to monarch butterflies. However, when it comes to the majority of crops around our globe, we have bees to thank. Research states that a third of all food we eat relies on honeybee pollination and globally, “87 of the leading 115 food crops evaluated are dependent on animal pollinators, contributing 35% of global food production”. To human beings the role bees play in pollination is fundamental to life as we know it, yet in the life of a bee, pollination is simply a happy accident as a result of maintaining their hives.

Economically, the South African Biodiversity Institute has stated that the local honey industry sees an average turnover of R3.2bn per annum which is equivalent to roughly 2000 tonnes per annum. And according to Rishad Ahmed, a more structured and strategic approach could see South Africa’s honey industry reaching over R20bn in annual turnover. To reach this goal there are several factors that need to be addressed, including:

(1) an increase in the number of beekeepersresearch shows that there has been a decline in the number of beekeepers since the 1980s. Nowadays, there are about 2000 jobs created directly by the beekeeping industry, but if we think about the entire eco-system for honey production, as well as the agricultural impact pollination has on the food industry, then bees and beekeepers play a vital role – directly and indirectly – in job creation. This has a massive impact on the South African economy and the employment rate more generally;

(2) holding governing bodies accountable for the enforcement of regulations to ensure that local honey and its producers remain relevant and are not undercut by honey importers. This goes hand-in-hand with;

(3) buying from local producers – in order to support the South African economy and ensure the best quality honey products on the shelves, consumers need to purchase from local suppliers. Before adding a honey jar to your basket, check the label to make sure the product has been produced in South Africa and only South Africa. If the country of origin is not listed, or there is more than one country mentioned as a country of origin, the honey is often adultered and therefore not pure;

(4) empowering consumers in their purchasing decisions – brands are responsible for educating and empowering their consumers with information about the products they purchase, but given that honey is the third most faked product in the world, it is safe to say that this is not always the case. Try our PPP test the next time you are purchasing honey to ensure you know what to look out for; and

(5) protecting bees from exterminations or any other harmful practices – in recent years scientists have noticed an alarming decline in the number of bees in the environment – while this hasn’t necessarily been attributed to one contributing factor researchers believe that there are a number of reasons for it; namely, pesticides, diseases and poor nutrition.

In this context, it is safe to say that a decline in the honeybee population will have a detrimental effect on our food security. Fortunately, there are several initiatives available that help support the honey industry and a healthy bee population.

Here at Peel’s we are passionate about supporting local beekeepers to ensure our products are of the highest quality, pass all stringent local and global testing criteria, and contribute to a symbiotic relationship between bee and beekeeper. We believe that the collective impact of consumer purchasing power has a huge impact on the world around us – and that the choices you make, matter. We encourage you to continue supporting the industry by purchasing from local brands that you trust.

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