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International project aims to revolutionise beekeeping

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CHAP is one of the four UK Agri-Tech Centres of Innovation. We bring together scientists, farmers, advisors, and pioneers to advance crop productivity and yield in the UK and beyond.

In South Africa, the beekeeping industry has been grappling with many challenges ranging from an ageing workforce, low honey prices, limited training opportunities, theft and vandalism, and a lack of young commercial beekeepers entering the sector.

These issues have raised concerns about the future of apiculture and the stability of honey supply and pollination services in the country.

To address these challenges, a pioneering project funded by the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) is underway to explore the potential of internet-of-things (IoT) technology to revolutionise the beekeeping sector in South Africa.

Led by Crop Health and Protection (Chap) in collaboration with Agrisound, a UK-based pollination management technology company, and Cropimpi, a South Africa-based R&D organisation, the primary goal of the project is to provide beekeepers with valuable, real-time data from in-hive sensors.

The project is focused on the provinces of KwaZulu Natal and Western Cape and seeks to investigate if there are differences in hive conditions or optimal behaviours for two bee species, namely the African honeybee and the Capensis bee.

The first phase of the project, which was conducted in KwaZulu Natal from January to March 2023, involved selecting 25 participants from diverse backgrounds to receive a series of training modules.

The training materials covered various aspects of beekeeping, and were tailored to address topical challenges faced by South African beekeepers – hive health, installation, components and beekeeping tips.

An assessment at the end of the training revealed an impressive 100% completion rate and an average score of 80%.

For data collection, 100 AgriSound in-hive sensors were strategically placed in different locations within KwaZulu Natal.

These sensors provided valuable insights into hive conditions, such as temperature, humidity, and colony acoustics, enabling beekeepers to make informed decisions and monitor hive health in real-time.

The first phase of the project successfully validated assumptions regarding the demand for improved beekeeping practices and the compatibility of 3G/4G connectivity with IoT devices.

Valuable lessons were also learned regarding device installation and user training.

With the successful completion of the first phase, the project is set to expand its scope to the Western Cape province, where the Capensis bee species resides.

This expansion aims to gather data on potential variations in bee behaviours and hive conditions across different species and regions, further enriching the project’s insights.

The transformative potential of IoT-powered beekeeping technology promises to secure the future of apiculture in South Africa and ensure sustainable honey production.

By empowering beekeepers with real-time data and fostering a collaborative learning environment, the project holds the key to a thriving and resilient beekeeping sector in the country, promoting both ecological balance and food security.

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