The sound of swarming bees should fill the air at this time of year but instead there is silence.
An unnatural drought, considered to be the worst in 40 years, appears to be the cause of this growing environmental disaster at the foot of the historic apiary of Inzerki, at the Arganeraie Biosphere Reserve in southwestern Morocco.
The bee colonies have disappeared, and silence echoes through the area as the catastrophe unfolds.
According to Brahim Chatoui, his bees are dying as the sun relentlessly beats down on his hives, located at the heart of the argan forest biosphere. He has lost 40 of his 90 hives in two months. While he sees drought as part of a natural cycle, the intensity of this one worries him. Other beekeeping families have already abandoned the tradition for lack of means.
The world’s oldest and largest traditional collective beekeeping site at Inzerki apiary originated in 1850. This is not the only site in Morocco where there are massive bee losses. Mohamed Choudani, from the Union of Moroccan Beekeepers, estimates that in the Beni Mellal-Khenifra region at the center of the country 100,000 beehives were lost since August.
This unrelated 1:30-minute video by africanews discusses the Moroccan honeybee disaster:
The National Office of Food Safety (ONSSA) does not seem to link the disappearance of so many bees in Morocco to colony collapse disorder (CCD). Instead, they see the departure of bees as an unprecedented event that is due to climate change rather than to disease.
According to bee science researcher Antonin Adam, intense agricultural practices, bee vulnerability to diseases, and the country’s desire to increase honey production are all part of the equation.
Between 2009 and 2019, Moroccan honey production increased by 69% from 4.7 tons to nearly 8 tons.
The losses from this catastrophe will be felt ecologically, traditionally, and financially.
The beehive complex, recently listed as a national heritage site, is a striking structure from a distance. Five levels of earth and wood house cylindrical hives inside boxes, made of woven reeds wrapped in cow dung and earth. Close up, it is clear that the structure is collapsing into ruin.
Hassan Benalayat, a researcher, says that degradation problems are a consequence of several upheavals in the area, especially due to the beekeeping industry being modernized and an exodus from rural lands, as well as global warming. Traditionally, there were 80 beekeeping families, but now there are only around 20 families left. He believes it is urgent to return this beekeeping tradition to its full capacity.
Brahim Chatoui believes the survival of the apiary and his bees is more important than honey production. He will not give up and hopes to keep his remaining bees alive while waiting for the return of better times. He created an association with other villagers to protect the apiary, and they planted aromatic aridity-resistant herbs to improve the soil.
Hopefully it is not too late to turn the devastation around and save the apiary as well as save the bees.