High rates of honey bee colony losses and regional variability in Ethiopia based on the standardised COLOSS 2023 survey

Hailu, Teweldemedhn Gebretinsae and Atsbeha, Alem Tadesse and Wakjira, Kibebew and Gray, Alison (2024) High rates of honey bee colony losses and regional variability in Ethiopia based on the standardised COLOSS 2023 survey. Insects, 15 (6). 376. ISSN 2075-4450 (https://doi.org/10.3390/insects15060376)

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Simple Summary: In addition to invaluable ecosystem services, beekeeping offers opportunities for job creation, income generation and food security. Beekeepers have been experiencing economic losses due to high rates of honey bee colony losses driven by various factors worldwide. We conducted this study using the COLOSS monitoring survey tools for the first time in Ethiopia to assess honey bee colony loss rates, annual colony development, beekeeping practices, and to determine the role of management practices (varroa monitoring, varroa treatment, colony splitting, feed supplementation, use of natural comb, and purchase of beeswax from external sources), as well as region, on colony losses. For this, data were collected by interviewing beekeepers from two major beekeeping regions in the country—Oromia and Tigray. Our results showed a high rate of colony losses in Ethiopia, which significantly varied between the regions. The main drivers of honey bee colony losses are related to natural disasters (particularly war), beekeeping husbandry practices, and pest management. Therefore, it is important to promote the capacity of smallholder beekeepers to implement improved beekeeping practices such as feed supplementation, queen replacement and pest management that would lead to reduced losses, increased profitability, and improved food security and livelihood. Abstract: The COLOSS research association has been assessing honey bee colony losses, associated risk factors and management, focusing on Western countries but with a progressive international expansion. Here, we report the first survey on the loss rates of colonies in 2022/2023 in Ethiopia using COLOSS monitoring survey tools. A face-to-face interview questionnaire survey was conducted on 64 beekeepers selected from Oromia and Tigray regions. This covered 1713 honey bee colonies distributed in 68 apiaries. The percentages of colonies lost were significantly different between Oromia (24.1%) and Tigray (66.4%) regions. Colony losses were attributed as unsolvable queen problems (8% in Oromia; 10% in Tigray), natural disaster (32%; 82%), and empty hives or dead colonies (60%; 8%). The loss rate was significantly affected by queen replacement (p < 0.0001), use of natural comb (p < 0.0001), feed supplementation (p < 0.0001), region (p < 0.0001), varroa treatment (p < 0.0001), colony splitting (p < 0.01), and merging (p < 0.01). Beekeepers in Oromia managed more colonies and implemented improved practices compared to those in Tigray. However, all beekeepers in Oromia detected at least some bees with signs of deformed wing virus, compared to 76% of beekeepers in Tigray. In conclusion, the colony loss rate was significantly different between Oromia and Tigray regions due to differences in natural disasters, management, environment and health factors.