Ansa Banazeer1, Muhammad Babar Shahzad Afzal1, Muhammad Rizwan1, Ammad Ahmad2

1 Beekeeping & Hill Fruit Pests Research Station, Rawalpindi

2 Beekeeping & Hill Fruit Pests Research Sub-station, Murree


Apiculture or beekeeping has a significant role in agriculture which can help in improving the economies of developing countries. Beekeeping has multiple benefits as it provides honey, beeswax, producing honeybee hives for sale, industrial use and for foreign exchange earnings making it a commercial agricultural enterprise currently around the world (Okpokiri et al., 2015). China ranks first in honey production and its export followed by Argentina and New Zealand (Ayansola, 2012) which shows the importance of this enterprise as a money spinner. Different societies have been involved in beekeeping and honey hunting since ancient times. The honey hunting is an ancient practice as shown, for example, in cave paintings dating back to 11,000 BC found in Madhya Pradesh, India (Suryanarayan 2002). Bees are also providing additional role in pollination of plants and preservation of the natural vegetation. Bee farming is a relatively cheap to manage as it does not require high amount of inputs such as feed, fertilizer, large expanse of land, and irrigation water etc. to run and develop a this enterprise. Thus, it can also be carried out with other agriculture practices like horticulture, crops cultivation and livestock production, relatively (USAID, 2012; Okpokiri et al., 2015).

 About 20,000 species of bees are reported in the world of which 4000 native species are present in the North America (Anonymous, 2023). The four species of honey bees which include Apis florea, A. dorsata, A. cerana and A. mellifera have been reported in Pakistan (Morse  and Calderon, 2000). According to an estimate about 10,000 beekeepers in Pakistan are rearing about 600,000 colonies of A. mellifera inside the hives and annually producing more than 12,000 metric tons of honey.  A survey study results revealed that approximately 60, 70 , and 10 tons of honey is harvested from A. cerana, A. dorsata and A. florea bee colonies annually, respectively (Khan, 2020).


Various factors affect the honey production in Pakistan as given below:

1. Climate change

The climate change is currently a global phenomenon and is mainly caused by human activities such as industrialization and deforestation which result in reduction of ozone layer and increase the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the environment. These have led to changes in the integrity of the biodiversity and ecosystem which also have negative effect on bee colony survival. The secretion of nectar in honeybee flora depends upon temperature and humidity which influence the feeding behavior of bee colonies (Pătruic and Simiz. 2021). In 2022, devastating floods further worsened the situation and caused the destruction of over 22,000 bee colonies and impacted 124 beekeepers and bee farms. The jujube tree also known as beri has prime importance in honey production, but its population has also been declined due to flooding and deforestation. According to one report, about 600 to 700 containers of honey were exported in 2007 from Pakistan to Middle East countriesbut this number has been drastically reduced to 200-300 containers mainly due to sub-standard honey and impact of climate change. The honey production per A. mellifera colony has also declined significantly, as currently only 2-7 kg of honey is being extracted from per bee box compared to 20-25 kg in previous years (Anonymous, 2023). Thus climate change is adversely affecting the honeybee population, honey production and exports resulting in a decline in beekeeping business.

2. Role of pest and diseases

The bee population is effected by various pest and diseases including mites, different viruses, and bacterial and fungal infections.

2.1 Mites in honey bee colonies

Honey bees are effected by different species of mites such as Varroa destructor, V. jacobsoni, Acarapis woodi and Tropilaelaps clareae and their infestation may lead to destruction of whole colony (Sammataro et al., 2000; Dhooria., 2016). Among these mite species, the most dangerous pest of honey bee colony is V. destructor around the world which is an obligate parasite and able to attack different developmental stages of A. mellifera (Shen et al., 2005). Moderate to severe infestations due to mite attack have been observed in autumn when the mite population increases which ultimately affect the bee colony size and strength (Oddie et al., 2017). A fluvalinate strip is usually used for control of V. destructor in the hive during the absence of honey flow season (Floris et al., 2001).

2.2. Honey bee associated viruses

About 24 honey bee viruses have been identified which infect the A. mellifera while some of them remain in the body of host and don’t cause any disease or signs (Gisder and Genersch, 2015). Some viruses are more virulent and thus may cause a significant loss in honey bee colonies as well as decline the honey production (Gisder, 2010). Many honey bee viruses are transmitted by V. destructor such as acute and chronic bee paralysis virus, deformed wing virus and Kashmir bee virus (Ramsey et al., 2019; Locke., 2016).

2.3. Microsporidia

Microsporidia have true nucleus and are smallest single cell organism. Two species of Microsporidia; Nosema apis and N. ceranae have been reported to parasitize on adult honey bees. The Nosema genus is a parasitic fungus which infects insects such as honey bees, silkworms and bumble bees (Paris et al., 2018). An antibiotic isolated from the fungus Aspergillus fumigatus; Bicyclohexyl ammonium fumagillin is the only treatment for nosema disease in A. mellifera (Higes et al., 2011). However, there are some drawbacks in using the fumagillin to cure honeybees from Nosema such as research carried out on protein profiles of bees treated with fumagillin confirmed the hypothesis that fumagillin affects bee physiology at concentrations that don’t suppress N. ceranae (Huang et al., 2013). Besides this, some other drawbacks such as increase in management costs, and risks to human health through honey consumption have also been reported (Heever et al., 2015).

3. Pesticides effect on bee colony

Pesticides can be applied in different ways to crop as a spray or seed coatings (Delso et al., 2015). Residues of pesticides found in the pollen and nectar of contaminated plants also increases the exposure of bees to pesticides (Bayo and Goka., 2014). Insecticides have negative effect on bee population (Naggar et al., 2015). For this reason, beekeepers should be careful while using pesticides near bee hives. In recent years, neonicotinoids have been widely discussed among the scientific and beekeeping communities as they are widely used for plant protection (crops, vegetables, and fruits) (Delso et al., 2015). One of the main marketed neonicotinoids is imidacloprid (Jeschke et al., 2011) and has various negative impacts on different biological processes in honey bees (Piiroinen, and Goulson., 2106; Goulson., 2013). A recent study has shown that imidacloprid affects the protein biosynthesis by decreasing the level of proteolytic activity (proteases) (Wilde et al., 2016). Pesticides adversely affect the honey bee larvae and queen diet which is composed of high protein content called Royal jelly which subsequent decrease in honey bee populations (Jeschke et al., 2011) and also reduced the sperm motility (Ciereszko et al., 2017).

4. Environmental pollution

One of the most important consequences of air pollution is accumulation of heavy metal in environment (Bargańska et al., 2016; Søvik et al., 2015). Various heavy metal cations such as copper, zinc, cadmium, cobalt,  nickel, lead, and mercury are known to adversely affect both pollen (directly) and also the honey bees which feed on it (indirectly) (Nikolić et al., 2016;. Lazor et al., 2010). Heavy metals found in large quantities within affected plants lead to increase in the concentration of toxic heavy metals in bees’ bodies which poison the bees. That is why honey bees and honey bee products are used as bioindicators of environmental pollution with heavy metals (Bargańska et al., 2016; Skorbiłowicz et al., 2018; Goretti et al., 2020).

5. Impact of transportation

In most countries, large numbers of hives are transported by truck to multiple locations to pollinate seasonal crops. The bee colonies shifted to new area face multiple challenging stressors which include variation in temperature, air pressure, confinement, vibration, frequent changes in elevation and latitude. Overheating due to insufficient ventilation increases the risk of mortality (Groh et al., 2004). The ecological conditions of hive before transportation are often quite different from those of the destination (Fewell and Winston, 1992). Although transportation has also role in colony loss but our focus has been on changing of forage quality and consistency rather than on stress faced by colonies during transportation (Oldroyd., 2007). Transportation stress has received less attention because of difficulties in collecting data during shipping, yet it needs to be taken into consideration.

6. Genetically modified crops (GMO)

Research has been conducted on different plant species which carry a Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) gene resistance to insect pests (Johnson, 2015). No direct lethal effects of Bt toxins was observed on honey bees or other Hymenoptera but some sub‐lethal effects on honey bee behavior have been determined (Fewell and Winston., 1992). According to some report, presence of toxins in GMO crops leads to reduced body mass, larval survival and increased developmental time in honey bees (Paula et al., 2014). On the other hand, herbicide tolerant varieties has been introduced for growing maize, sunflower, etc., in the absence of weed in the crops. Since weeds are an alternative source of foraging, the widespread use of technology is considered to be one of the contributing factors to the starvation of bees—both wild and cultivated.

7. Shortage of bee flora

Expansion of farmland due to population pressure by burning and destroying the forestland could stimulate the reduction of honey producing flora and foraging areas which result in elimination of good pollen and nectar producing tree species in many areas. So it becomes difficult to maintain bee colonies without feeding (Kerealem, 2005; Gidey and Kebron, 2010).

8. Absconding and migration

There are several factors which force the honey bees to migrate from their previous hive especially due to lack of forage, predators and pests, poor sanitation, drought and uncomfortable weather. These circumstances exert negative impact on honey production (Assemu et al., 2013).

9. Lack of trained manpower and knowledge

Lack of knowledge,apicultural extension staff, absence of national trainingcenter and lack of standard training materials are also major problems of beekeeping in the world (Mengistu., 2010). Beekeepers have less knowledge about beekeeping practices due to lack of formal and informal training (Birhanu., 2016).

10. Shortage of bee rearing equipment

According to Gallmann and Thomas (2012), majority of farmers use traditional bee hives which have the some disadvantages such as one cannot inspect comb for brood diseases, to split the colony for artificial colony reproduction, to feed a colony during times of food and high chance that the colony queen is killed during honey harvesting. Lack of equipments, materials, high cost of modern hives and accessories are the major problems of beekeeping practices which reduce the honey production (Chimdessa., et al 2020).

11. Adulteration of honey

Any foreign substance/s added to the pure honey make it adulterated. Honey is characterized as a natural and raw foodstuff which can be consumed not only as a sweetener but also has medicinal value due to its therapeutic impact on human health. It is prone to adulterants caused by humans. Adulteration increases the blood sugar of consumer, which can cause obesity, diabetes, abdominal weight gain, and it also raises the level of blood lipids and a person may encounter high blood pressure. The most common organ affected by honey adulterants is the liver followed by the kidney, heart, and brain.

12. Lack of honey testing facilities

The lack of honey quality detection technology is also a toll on Pakistani beekeepers. Pakistan does not have a laboratory that issues honey testing certificates. Beekeepers are facing losses when they export uncertified honey. Pakistani honey is cheaper and tastes better than New Zealand’s honey. If we work to establish an internationally recognized modern laboratory, our honey will be one of the best. The National Agriculture Research Council (NARC), Islamabad is trying to establish an international certification similar to the ISO. Once our honey is certified, it can be exported to high-end markets such as Europe (Anonymous 2023).

13. Bee management issues

Specific peculiarities of beekeeping can be the direct cause or a supplement to the complex of stressors that can contribute to colony breakdown.  These include artificial, unilateral feeding, acaricides, insecticides and antibiotics in bee hives and temperature fluctuations, parasites, overexploitation of bee products as well as unreliable sources of bees and queens (Schierow et al., 2012; Capri and Marchis., 2013). To avoid these shortcomings, it is necessary to conduct trans‐national monitoring schemes and to improve beekeeper capacity building (Jacques andLaurent., 2017). Artificial feeding in bees is necessary in case of overcrowding in prolonged cold and rainy weather (Engelsdorp et al., 2009). Pollen is one of important food source for bees to maintain their proper development and functioning. Protein supplements are usually used in early spring and in mid‐early autumn to stimulate feeding and successfull overwintering of the bee colonies, respectively. Addition of small amounts of pollen into protein supplements increases the resilience of honey bee colonies against nosema disease and deformed wing virus (Jong et al., 2019). It is necessary to plan the presence of pollen availability annually and ensure the seasonal availability of pollen in case of deficiency in nature (Hoffman and Chen., 2015). For the effective function of the immune system at both the social and individual level is a prerequisite to provide proper and balanced nutrition throughout the year. To obtain higher sustainability and resistance against pathogens is necessary condition to consistently improve the nutritional status in bee colonies (for example Varroa mites and honey bee‐associated viruses) and diseases.


The major constraints that affect honey production are mentioned above. To overcome these constraints the following practices should be adopted;

  • Beekeepers should develop management strategies to overcome the problem caused by climate change such as to lessen the impact of extreme weather occurrences by growing trees as windbreaks and shade structures which protect the hives from high winds and direct sunlight. Water sources can also be supplied to help bees to stay hydrated during droughts.
  • Adjust the timing of hive inspections and honey harvests to account for earlier or later blooms, as well as alter the feeding schedules to ensure bees have access to food during periods of drought or excessive rain.
  • Adopt effective controlling methods for honeybee pests, disease and predators (create awareness on integrated pest management and biological diseases controls system for beekeepers).
  • Introducing and expansion of full package improved beekeeping technologies should be done with adequate practical skills (for improving pre- and post-harvest handling of honey).
  • Different training workshops and seminars for beekeepers, traders and other concerned bodies on modern beekeeping practice (strengthen full package extension services) should be conducted.
  • Farmers interested in beekeeping business should be assisted through credit availability, improving the barging power of beekeepers, strengthen linkage among different concerned institutions, cooperative formation, input supply, market facilitation and infrastructures as a whole.
  • Focus should be on research and human resources development on beekeeping production and honey marketing.
  • Expand the coverage of flowering plants especially economically important ones like horticultural crops and reduce the impact of agro-chemical.
  • The regular bee management practices should be carried out such as queen renewal, comb renewal, hygienic condition, continuous sugar feeding, proper ventilation, sanitation of hives, sterilization of hives and bee equipments etc.
  • There is no chemical treatment for the viral disease except development of tolerant strains. For example, the colonies which are free from disease throughout the year and had more resistance to disease. Such colonies should be isolated and large number of queens should be produced and colonies must be requeened frequently. During this process resistance is passed on to generations within a short period.


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