Beekeepers Hear the Buzz About Pest Control in Madagascar
Beekeeper Jean Tsitambainarivo lives with his family in Madagascar’s Vatovavy Fitovinany region, where he is well respected and is president of the AINA Beekeeper Cooperative in the community of Antsenavolo. AINA, with its 19 members, produces honey from numerous plants, including lychees, bonara (Albizia lebbeck L.), grevillea, eucalyptus and niaouli.
In the Vatovavy Fitovinany region, the combination of warm temperatures, high rainfall and increased biodiversity leads to conditions where honey can be harvested up to four times per year. In 2010 when Tsitambainarivo began beekeeping, he successfully started his first harvest with 60 hives at his disposal which produced 1,400 liters of honey. However, 2010 was also the year that the varroa mite took hold in Madagascar, infecting the endemic honeybee, Apis mellifera unicolor.
Over the next few years, this pest caused the destruction of approximately 60% of the country’s bee colonies, and up to 90% in some areas. The devastation caused by the mite led the Government of Madagascar to declare it a national disaster, mandating that all infected and adjacent hives be destroyed. By 2017, Tsitambainarivo’s production decreased by 60% and he had only 20 low-producing hives left. Locally no obvious treatment was known at the beginning of the infestation and imported products were expensive. Many beekeepers struggled to continue producing honey.
In Madagascar, beekeeping is not just important for the sale of honey and wax, but also for pollination. The endemic bee pollinates 80% of all plants and, culturally, honey is highly regarded as a symbol of success and happiness. While expensive, most Malagasy families make a point to have honey available for use in important events and ceremonies as well. Due to the impact of the varroa mite, many beekeepers made the decision to pursue other economic activities, but Tsitambainarivo persevered and led the AINA Cooperative to find a solution. Using a pesticide that controls varroa mites, Tsitambainarivo was able to reduce the infestation and serve as an example to other beekeepers. He built back more hives, but because the varroa mites were not completely exterminated, he still struggled with low production and weak colonies.
In early 2020, Tsitambainarivo and the AINA Cooperative partnered with the Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program implemented in Southern Africa and Moldova by Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA) to improve control of the varroa mite. AINA, meaning “life” in Malagasy, is a beekeeper cooperative based in the rural commune of Antsenavolo of the Mananjary district, in Southeast Madagascar. Tsitambainarivo and 18 other AINA Cooperative members were visited by U.S.-based volunteer Steven Youssef, a business development professional, beekeeper and owner of a beekeeping business in Vienna, Virginia. During his trainings, Youssef demonstrated a technique to control varroa mite that had not been tried by the cooperative. Using a battery-powered vaporizer, he demonstrated how to fumigate hives with oxalic acid, a naturally occurring acid found in plants that can successfully exterminate mites. The training covered topics like choosing the right time for fumigation, selecting directions for spraying based on air flow and, importantly, using protective face masks. Youssef also trained cooperative members on how to follow-up on the colonies and hives, support the development of a strong bee colony and increase production of quality honey. As a complement to the trainings, CNFA’s partner, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), covered the cost of the vaporizers, which still remain with the cooperatives today.
The AINA Cooperative was impressed at the speed and ease of the oxalic acid technique. As president, Tsitambainarivo oversaw the treatment of many hives and, nowadays, is back to producing substantial amounts of honey through his 70 hives . By September 2020, he had collected 840 liters of honey, considerably more than the 150 liters his bees produced in 2019. With his larger and improved quality harvests, Tsitambainarivo can take advantage of the increased domestic demand for honey and improve his income. His sales in 2020 totaled $3,230 and are still growing, whereas sales the previous year totaled only $460. With this extra income, Tsitambainarivo supported his wife to expand her shop and has made plans to further expand his own business.