“A skinny dog is all fleas,” he repeats. Pablo Pestanopresident of the Tenerife Beekeepers Association (Apiten) when referring to the damage left by the fire that devastated the Island in a sector that was already affected by the varroa mite, the lack of rain in recent years and as a consequence, the decrease in flowering, and the lack of relief generational.
The fire that started on August 15 and on whose extinction an operation of 114 people in addition to four helicopters continues to work on the ground, has had important consequences in the primary sector. In the case of the beekeepingApiten estimates that there are more than 3,000 beehives burnednails 2,000 damagedbee populations that have been drastically reduced and more than 50 tons of honey lost.
However, Pestano clarifies that this is a first estimate since the situation of many apiaries that are within the area whose access is still restricted, especially in the North of Tenerife, still needs to be known.
“We are getting permits and we have been able to go to those in the Teide National Park, to those in a part of the upper area of Güímar and little by little we can continue exploring,” he says.
As they do so, they encounter new situations and more factors that allow them to assess the damage of the worst fire in Spain this year, with twelve municipalities affected and a total of 14,700 hectares burned. Thus, the beekeepers verified that there were not only hives completely destroyed by the flames but also others “that are dying because although the box is fine, the wax is melted due to the excessive heat it has received”, and those that have survived are found in a quite compromised situation, with a population loss that ranges between 80% and 90% and therefore, it is insufficient to get through the winter.
“Bees have died, but not the parasite, therefore, there are colonies with less population with the same mites”
Added to all this is varroa, the bee’s main enemy, a parasite that infects the hive and transmits viral and bacterial infections to both offspring and adults. “Bees have died but not varroa, therefore, there are colonies that have very few insects that are coexisting with the same number of mites, which gives us this added health problem. We give them two treatments a year to keep them controlled at levels that do not affect the hive,” explains the president of Apiten, who confesses that “it was not expected that the remaining hives would be in such bad condition.”
With a devastated field and no flora, the only solution that beekeepers have is to give their bees the specific complementary foods provided by the Cabildo of Tenerife and that will begin to be distributed next week to try to recover the populations before winter arrives. and that the hives are viable for next year. At the same time, treatment against varroa will be advanced.
A complicated situation
However, both Pablo Pestano and Juan Jesús Ramos Fariña, president of the Northern Tenerife Beekeeping Association, do not hide that without flowering the situation “is very complicated.”
The two valleys, Güímar and La Orotava, are where the largest number of hives are concentrated and where beekeeping transhumance has historically been carried out. Also in Arafo, where many beehives have been burned, mainly in the area of Las Crucitas and Guadameña, while the rock of Mal Abrigo, in Izaña and Los Dornajos, in Güímar, “is devastated, there is nothing left,” he confirms.
To save those that remain and have been removed, such as those from the Teide National Park, beekeepers move them to other parts of the island territory.
The almost 500 members of Apiten have community insurance that covers the fire and that is why the association receives data and figures on conditions. However, a significant number of hives remain to be assessed in the northern area because that is where there is still danger from the flames, as is the case of La Victoria, Santa Úrsula, La Matanza and Ravelo, in El Sauzal. In this last nucleus there are more than 200 burned hives according to a beekeeper.
“Many had taken them down and were in the Acentejo region to take advantage of the flowering of the chestnut tree. It was leaving the frying pan to go to the embers,” says Pablo ironically.
Juan Jesús has affected apiaries in La Victoria, in the Las Rosas-Los Dornajos area and in the Teide National Park. His situation is no different from that of most of his colleagues, hives that are not burned but in which the bee population has disappeared because everything around them was burning. He makes a professional living from this and is aware that the fire will have a direct impact on his income. In his case, of the 350 hives in production, 80 are affected, “although when you work in the primary sector, no matter how few they are, they have an influence.”
Added to this is that beekeepers have to pay the self-employment fee, insurance “and everything that this government provides. The economy is suffering and that is why we are going to look for some kind of help,” he says.
There is a reality that cannot be changed no matter how much effort professionals and administrations make. And the environment that has been lost cannot be used for beekeeping “for 4 or 5 years when the vegetation recovers. “We will depend on the weather, the rain and other factors, because in the end, if it does not rain in the area and there is no flowering, we beekeepers are going to concentrate and overcrowd an area of bees and that is not good for anyone,” Ramos maintains.
The honey harvest also suffered a significant decline due to several factors. On the one hand, because the first days the bees were without any type of resource and fed on the honey that they themselves produced, while the honey that remained has lost quality and qualities due to the high temperatures, and has a lot of smell of smoke. , so it cannot be marketed although we will have to wait for the quality controls to which they will be subjected, explains Juan Jesús.
In this case, it is estimated that the damage is between 10 and 15 kilos per hive, so if around 5,000 are affected, they exceed 50 tons.
For beekeepers it is important to sell even the small amount they have been able to rescue. “It is the best way to help us,” says Juan Jesús.
Consuming honey from the Island: the best help that the sector can have
Already at the beginning of this year, beekeepers in Tenerife and throughout the Canary Islands denounced unfair competition and misleading labeling of imported honey. The shortage of honey on the Island is a problem derived from the drought of recent years and climate change and that some producers and distributors took advantage of to bring honey from other countries – which, in addition, is sold at a lower cost – and mix it with what they It is produced in the Archipelago. At that time, beekeepers sent a message to the population about the importance of consuming honey from Tenerife, which is now more urgent than ever. It can be purchased at farmer’s markets, craft fairs or on the Apiten website, which offers information on the local producer from whom you can order it, indicate Pablo Pestano and Juan Jesús Ramos. “Right now this is the help that beekeepers need,” they emphasize.