Bees for Development Journal Edition 54 - March 2000

Page 6

of apples in China

by Uma Partap and Tej Partap, ICIMOD, Nepal

4.The apple farmers use pesticides excessively. They spray 10-15 times

is pollinated by hand instead of by insects like honeybees.

each season, even during flowering time. Past experiences indicate that

Pollinating apples by hand Pollination of apple flowers by hand is very common in Maoxian County despite the fact that beekeeping is popular in the area. The following Maoxian County apples planted on a large-scale in the 1980s are now an In

important cash crop. Dr Uma Partap explains, “Pollination problems started right at the beginning. There is a very low proportion of polliniser trees and a scarcity of pollinating insects because of pesticides”.

introduction Maoxian County is in Aba Prefecture in Sichuan Province, South China. Apple cultivation started in 1935 with the planting of 30 trees of six different varieties. Large-scale cultivation started in the early 1980s, when apple became a main cash crop of the County. Apples from this region are known as ‘Moawen Apples’ and are famous for their quality. They are sold in markets in Beijing,

Tianjing, Guangzhu and Hong Kong, and also are exported to Russia and south-east Asian countries. In Maoxian County there are 2,830 hectares of apple trees producing around 30,000 tonnes of apple, worth 33.9 million Yuans (US$ 4.2 million) every year. However in recent years, apple production has dropped in both yield and quality. We therefore investigated whether the pollination of the apples was adequate.

Study methodology We prepared a questionnaire, surveyed the apple area, and interviewed farmers. Because apple is the main cash crop, farmers aim for maximum yield and quality by using every possible orchard

pesticides used during flowering seasons killed many bee colonies and other natural insect pollinators, in addition to killing apple pests.

issues emerged: 1. Average

land holdings are very smail:

around 0.2 hectares. Therefore to make best use of the land, farmers have planted only the main variety of apple and a very low proportion (5-7%), of polliniser trees. The minimum requirement is 20%. The farmers simply do not want to increase the proportion of polliniser trees, as they are commercially less important. With such a low

proportion of pollinisers, honeybees can play only a small role in pollination. 2. Because apple is the main cash crop of the area, farmers want higher yields of better quality apples, at any price. They want to ensure that each flower is properly pollinated. Therefore they believe only in pollination by hand and feel that this is a way to achieve certain pollination when the polliniser proportion is

very low. 3. Farmers also believe that pollination by hand is the surest method of pollination even under adverse climatic conditions. It is still possible to hand pollinate apples in low temperatures and bad weather, when bees and other insects are not flying. t

5. Though beekeeping and migratory beekeeping are common in the area,

beekeepers are now not interested t rent bee colonies for apple pollination. Therefore farmers continue to pollinate their crops by hand.

Pollination by hand Pollinating apples by hand is a community effort. Apple flowering begins at lower altitudes and progresses upwards. Thus all apple farmers in the higher areas of the County are free of work and are hired to pollinate apples in lower areas. Since orchards are very small, larger families are able to

pollinate their whole crop by themselves. In hand pollination the anthers are picked from a flower of the polliniser variety when the flower is at the balloon stage (partially open flowers) and is dried to release pollen grains. Farmers usually dry the anthers by spreading them out in the sun for a day or two. Some use cardboard boxes provided with an electric bulb, and others even use electric blankets to dry the anthers. The pollen grains are stored in a cool, dry place and remain viable for three to four days. These are

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management technique like irrigation, fertilisers, pruning, and use of pesticides and fungicides. Field investigation revealed that almost every apple flower

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A Bees for Development publication

Beekeeping is common in the area but beekeepers are unhappy to rent colonies for pollination because of the danger from pesticide spraying