What’s Killing Russia’s Honey Bees?

What’s Killing Russia’s Honey Bees?

access_time2019-07-29 08:30:46


As footage pans over honey bees lying dead on the ground, a beekeeper breaks into tears. “How can we go on?” he says. 

From the Moscow suburbs to the Altai republic more than 4,000 kilometers to the east in Siberia, millions of bees were reported to have died off this summer. Mass bee deaths were cited in 24 of Russia’s 85 regions, raising the threat of severe economic losses to Russian agriculture that may reverberate long past this season.

“If we lose the bees, everything will be affected,” said Arnold Butov, the head of Russia’s beekeepers’ union. “We have to protect them as if they are holy.”

Authorities say some 300,000 bee colonies died off over June and July — peak months for honey harvesting. 

Butov told The Moscow Times the losses could mean that Russia, which produces about 100,000 tons of honey annually, may produce up to 20% less than usual this year. He also warned that bees pollinate a wide variety of crops in Russia, including key staples like buckwheat. 

Russian officials have quickly put the blame for the losses on pesticide use run rampant.

Earlier this month, the spokeswoman for the state agricultural watchdog Rosselkhoznadzor, Yuliana Melano, told the state-run Rossia-24 television channel, which showed the footage of dead honey bees, that in 2011 the agency had relinquished most of its powers to control pesticide use.

“The Economic Development Ministry, in our view, needs to take responsibility,” she said. “They were the ones to propose less regulation.”

The authorities have already begun assigning responsibility. On Wednesday, the first criminal case was opened on a possible violation of pesticide use in the Oryol region 300 kilometers south of Moscow.


In a statement, the local branch of the Investigative Committee said that a subsidiary of Russia’s farming conglomerate Rusagro “failed to issue timely and sufficient warnings” to beekeepers. Bee experts say that pesticides should only be administered at night when bees aren’t in the fields and that beekeepers should be aware that pesticides are being administered so they can take necessary precautions.

Russian bee experts in interviews also blamed the honey bee losses on pesticide misuse.

Butov, who is preparing a report for the Russian government to be delivered on Aug. 1, said that the people hired to spray pesticides by large-scale corporate farms often don’t have the right certification needed to administer the “strong-acting poisons” safely.

Alfir Mannapov, the president of the National Association of Beekeepers, said that regional officials should have been better monitoring the issue.

Bee losses have confounded experts all over the world in recent years. Despite dozens of papers written about the massive die-off in the United States in the mid-aughts, Dave Goulsen, a bee specialist at the University of Sussex in Britain, said that scientists had still not pinpointed what exactly had killed the bees.

Around the world, bee experts say climate change is having an effect on population losses.

Experts do blame pesticides — specifically neonicotinoids — but also varroa mites, the loss of natural habitat and flowers, and, more recently, climate change.

Last year, researchers in the United States linked continued heavy bee colony losses there to climate change, Bloomberg News reported.

Russia isn’t the only European nation to have seen massive honey bee die-offs this year: Officials have sounded concerns in France, too.

There, in addition to pesticides, beekeepers have blamed climate change.

The French farming union cited the same cause.

Although the term “climate change” hasn’t been uttered by Russian officials or bee experts since beekeepers began raising the alarm in June, Russia has also been affected by heatwaves in parts of the country this year. 

Higher temperatures have resulted in nearly two million hectares of fire currently raging across Siberia and the Far East.

The Moscow Times


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