The community of Inzerki in Morocco which have the world’s oldest and largest beehive face disaster with their bees due to a severe drought.
Brahim Chatoui, a beekeeper, claims he has lost over a third of his hives in just two months—and he isn’t alone.
“This area would ordinarily be bustling with bees at this time of year,” Chatoui added, sweating beneath the scorching spring heat. “They’re dying at an alarming rate right now.”
The problem is known as “colony collapse disorder” has witnessed a huge increase in large die-offs of essential pollinators in the North African kingdom.
Experts argue that abrupt mass bee fatalities are frequently linked to environmental damage and the widespread use of pesticides around the world.
However, Moroccan authorities claim that the collapses are the result of the country’s worst drought in 40 years, which has destroyed the plants that bees rely on for a living.
The situation is so serious that the government has set aside 130 million dirhams ($13 million) to help beekeepers and study the source of bee mortality.
The examination was conducted by Morocco’s National Food Safety Office, which ruled out sickness as a cause.
Rather, it attributed the “unprecedented” increase of hive collapses to a severe drought brought on by climate change.
Inzerki’s unusual community beehive is located on a sunny mountainside in the Arganeraie Biosphere Reserve, a 2.5-million-hectare UNESCO-protected zone 415 kilometers (260 miles) southwest of Rabat.
A five-story edifice made of wooden struts and dry mud stretches up a hillside, each compartment housing a cylindrical wicker hive covered in a mixture of soil and cow dung.
Experts believe it is the world’s oldest traditional, collective beehive, going back to 1850, but it is now endangered due to climate change.
Drought is partly to blame, according to bee specialist Antonin Adam, who has researched the insects in southwestern Morocco.
However, he said that “the bees’ vulnerability to illnesses, nomadic pastoral traditions, intense agriculture, and the country’s ambition to enhance its honey production” may have aggravated the problem.
But Inzerki’s apiary isn’t the only one in jeopardy.
The problem is affecting bee numbers across the country, according to Mohamed Choudani of the UAM beekeepers union.
According to government estimates, Morocco’s 36,000 beekeepers managed 910,000 hives in summer, a 60 percent increase since 2009.
However, according to Choudani, 100,000 colonies have been lost in the central region of Beni Mellal-Khenifra alone since August.
More than three-quarters of food crops and flowering plants rely on bees and other pollinators for reproduction.
Bees, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), play an “essential role… in keeping people and the world healthy,” serving as “sentinels for emerging environmental dangers, signaling the health of local ecosystems,” according to the UN.
The collapse of hives is an ecological and economic calamity for the residents of Inzerki, but it is also a crisis for their unique history.
Many Inzerki locals, according to Chatoui, can’t afford to resurrect their lost colonies.
“Some families have opted to completely abandon beekeeping,” he said.
Inzerki’s hives are in trouble. The structure, which was recently designated as a national cultural site, is sinking in places.
Hassan Benalayat, a geographer, attributes the neglect to a number of issues, including the onset of industrial agriculture and a widespread flight from the countryside, in addition to climate change.
Approximately 80 families in the community used to keep bees. There are now fewer than 20.
“It’s critical to preserve this extraordinary legacy,” Benalayat remarked.
Chatoui and other locals have formed an association to reconstruct the structure, as well as to cultivate plants that would help the bees cope with the heat and aridity.
“The situation is grave,” Chatoui added, “but that doesn’t mean I’m giving up.”
“The goal isn’t to manufacture honey; it’s to protect the hives and ensure that the bees live till better days.”