Climate change destroys honey production in Kyrgyzstan

Climate change destroys honey production in Kyrgyzstan

by Baktygul Chynybaeva
|November 9, 2021

Kyrgyzstan produces some of the best honeys in the world, but the industry is in peril as the loss of glaciers reduces irrigation of high mountain pastures and bee populations plummet due to the uncontrolled use of pesticides. Credit: Azattyk Media

On the second day of COP 26 in Glasgow, Kyrgyz leader Sadyr Japarov made an ambitious declaration under the Paris Agreement on climate change asking for help from international organizations. He also mentioned the glacier problems which are currently the most difficult in Kyrgyzstan. Meanwhile, the country’s small glaciers are at risk of disappearing by 2050. The disappearance of glaciers is having a devastating effect on farmers in the region. The supply of irrigation water has diminished and pastures have not developed well.

This situation affects not only individual farmers, but also the Kyrgyz beekeeping sector, which is considered to be the best in the world in terms of honey quality.

Taalaibek Saatov, a 60-year-old farmer, has been practicing beekeeping for four years on the slopes of the Sary-Uzen Chui region, with its rivers fed by meltwater from glaciers, in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Kyrgyzstan. However, for the past two years, his beekeeping joy has been cut short. It is becoming more and more difficult to harvest from around 20 beehives, mainly because of climate change.

“Spring was very late in the Chui area this year, and as soon as the bees needed flowers, the weather passed 30 degrees Celsius and all the field flowers withered. Since May 2021, it has not rained more than four times. My bees suffered from such extreme and unusual weather conditions.

In addition, Taalaibek said, farmers are using uncontrolled pesticides to increase crop yields. Those applied to the fields in May and June led to massive extinctions of its bees, following its movement to the mountain pastures.

The unique geography of Kyrgyzstan has made it possible in the past to produce high quality honey in large quantities. The country has vast high mountain pastures covered with a variety of honey plants.

Honey produced in Kyrgyzstan has been recognized in international festivals around the world as the best organic honey in terms of quality. In 2014, at the 44th International Honey Festival in South Korea, Kyrgyz honey from the highlands of At-Bashy took first place for quality.

As glaciers melt and the climate changes, some beekeepers have had to move their hives to higher mountain pastures to find enough wildflowers for their bees. Credit: Azattyk Media

As beekeeping in the country decreases year by year, the world famous Kyrgyz honey is suffering from climate change and soil degradation. The pesticide industry is growing and the government has not enacted any legislation to control the use of pesticides. In addition, extreme weather conditions have not been recognized as a problem by the government. In the 1990s, 12,000 honey farms produced more than 10,000 tonnes of honey. The number of beekeepers has deteriorated to a surprisingly low 1,000, in total producing only 3,000 tonnes of honey in one year.

In remote areas, United Nations development programs have supported beekeeping in local villages to cope with the harsh climatic conditions, while government organizations have turned a blind eye to the issue.

Beekeeper Taalaibek couldn’t keep beehives on the Chui slope for a long time, and this year he had to climb to the top of the mountain in search of wildflower pasture for his bees. However, the 2021 drought in Central Asia destroyed the flowering grass early on, and he was disappointed in his research.

“If you go up into the mountains now, everything is yellow and brown,” he said. “When you walk on the grass, you see that it has dried up. Usually in May, the Chui fields were blooming until July, and we didn’t need to climb mountains until then. in July and August, when the mountains were blooming, the migration of beekeepers began. We were to arrive in the mountains in early June of this year. But there were no flowers on the pastures.

Autumn has now arrived in Kyrgyzstan, but Taalaibek will spend the winter thinking about how to find a pasture or a field in bloom next spring and raise his beloved bees.

Beekeeping is essential for the livelihoods of the Kyrgyz people and for the pollination of wild plants native to the mountains of Kyrgyzstan. It is devastating how climate change and the use of pesticides affect even one of the most remote parts of the world. Addressing these issues is essential for moving forward with sustainability.

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