Iraq honey production at the mercy of heat and drought

AFP , Sunday 16 Jul 2023

An oppressive heat beats down on the central Iraqi province of Babylon, where drought and rising temperatures are hitting bees and honey production hard.

A beekeeper checks on bee frames at an apiary in the village of al-Raghila near Hilla in central Iraq on July 6, 2023. AFP


Beekeeper Mohamed Aliawi knows it all too well as he checks on dozens of hive boxes placed at the feet of tall palm trees in the fields of Al-Reghila village.

"There is no water and therefore no (flowering) plants to keep the bees satisfied," Aliawi, the deputy director of a local apiarist association, told AFP.

The earth is cracked, and growing melons and watermelons proves difficult due to a lingering drought and intense July temperatures often reaching around 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) -- which take their toll on bees too.

A bee needs to constantly forage for the pollen and nectar necessary for honey production. It is in constant movement, usually travelling hundreds of metres (yards) to find its bounty, said Aliawi.

But the drought is forcing bees to travel longer -- up to five kilometres (three miles) -- to pollinate.

"This impacts the lifespan of the worker bee", the female bee that gathers pollen and nectar, Aliawi explained.

"Under optimal circumstances, the worker bee can live up to 60 days, but in this current situation it only lives 20 days."

In addition, bees thrive in temperatures of around 30-35 degrees Celsius, not in searing heat, when the thermometer climbs to 50, said Aliawi, the manager of a private honey producer.

He has moved dozens of bee hive boxes from central Iraq to seven sites scattered across the mountains of the northern autonomous Kurdistan region, where the air is cooler and the land greener.

"If we don't move the bees they suffer," he said.