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Meet the Emirati sheikh on a mission to save the world's bees

The National logo The National 25/11/2021 Gillian Duncan
Sheikh Salem Bin Sultan Al Qasimi, chairman of OneHive, at the Abu Dhabi Agriculture and Food Security Conference on Tuesday. Khushnum Bhandari/ The National © Provided by The National Sheikh Salem Bin Sultan Al Qasimi, chairman of OneHive, at the Abu Dhabi Agriculture and Food Security Conference on Tuesday. Khushnum Bhandari/ The National

Sheikh Salem bin Sultan Al Qasimi is a man on a mission to save the honeybee.

The avid beekeeper, who has been interested in the insects since he was a child, has set up numerous companies over the past few decades in the beekeeping industry.

But he has now consolidated them into one, called OneHive, which he hopes will become a global ambassador in the project to save bees from extinction.

“My interest started when I was young,” Sheikh Salem, who is also the chairman of Ras Al Khaimah International Airport, told The National.

Our main focus is to educate the young generations about the importance of bees and their survival and how we can sustain them

Sheikh Salem bin Sultan

“I liked bees and had a passion for them. My father used to bring hives from the mountains for food. So the connection started there and later on I got into this industry.”

His company produces and sells honey produced from the nectar of the sidr tree, wildflowers, ghaf tree and even mangroves.

But its primary purpose is to ensure the survival of the bee species.

“Our main focus is to educate the young generations about the importance of bees and their survival and how we can sustain them, especially with the challenges we have in the area with the hot weather, the scarcity of water and all these things,” he said at Abu Dhabi Agriculture and Food Security Week, where his company is exhibiting.

“So this is very important how we can produce more bees, sustain them and produce our own local honey to have as a food security product here in the UAE.”

Bees are critically important pollinators, carrying pollen from one plant to another, thereby helping fertilise plants so they can produce fruit and seeds.

Bees pollinate 70 of the 100 fruit, vegetable and nut crop species that feed 90 per cent of the world’s population. If they die, so would the plants they pollinate.

And if this happens, experts say the world would lose half the vegetables and fruits that are available today.

But over the past few decades the world has recorded massive declines in the numbers of honeybees, with one global study earlier this year estimating a quarter of all bee species known to science – which is about 20,000 – have not been seen, despite improved and expanded monitoring programmes.

Another study by researchers at the University of Ottawa and University College London found that the likelihood of a bee being at any given place in Europe or North America has declined by a third since the 1970s.

OneHive put several initiatives in place to help ensure bees’ survival here, including creating a bee reserve near Hatta with more than 8,000 sidr trees.

It has also created an educational garden, OneHive Honeybee Garden and Discovery Centre in Hatta, to teach people about the importance of the species.

It is starting to build partnerships with local companies too to broaden its reach, with Dubai Airports roped in recently. The partnership seeks to build an educational centre to further raise awareness of the plight of the honeybee.

And it is also working with producers to save bees that are no longer needed after the short honey production season.

“What happens here in the UAE is a lot of bees are brought in. They are purchased outside of the UAE, in Egypt, for instance,” said Shadi Zakhour, the company’s managing director.

“It becomes a really commercial practice, where they bring the bees in for the season for maybe one month and then they let the bees die. This is something we are really against. We have created a buyback programme.

"We purchase the bees from the beekeepers after the season ends. So it gives us the opportunity to save some bees. It also helps our production to sustain them. No one wants to sustain them over the hot months. Bees are like us, they need protein and carbohydrates and if they can’t get that in the environment, they die.”

Sheikh Salem said about 50 per cent of the beekeepers only operate for the season. Out of that number, OneHive buys about 30 per cent of the bees which would have otherwise been allowed to die. It relocates them to cooler areas where the company looks after them to ensure their survival.

“We have to care about bees,” he said.

“If they disappear from Earth, life will follow and disappear after four years. That means it is a big impact on our life, our sustainability, our culture, our health, our food system, our security.”

Hatta bee farm - in pictures

Hatta Honey Bee Discovery Centre, where hives from the Sustainable City community are producing more honey than ever. All photos Pawan Singh / The National

Hatta Honey Bee Discovery Centre, where hives from the Sustainable City community are producing more honey than ever. All photos Pawan Singh / The National
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