/ 31 March 2023

All the buzz about The Bee Effect

Honey bees are generalist pollinators that play a role in our global need to regenerate our biodiversity corridors to sustain the ecosystems and their functions. Photo: Supplied

The average honey bee’s body size is just 15mm long, wrapped in golden and brown bands. Although it’s small in size, this little creature has many responsibilities, including pollinating more than 30% of the foods we eat. Our food security could be harmed because of the many threats they face.

Eve Puttergill has focused on creating and supporting projects that address some of the honey bees’ key stressors, especially their need for diverse pollen and nectar sources. In 2016, she founded The Bee Effect, which is based in Stellenbosch, to do just that. We spoke to her about the initiative.

Why was The Bee Effect founded?

There is a growing demand for food crops that rely on insect pollination, and honey bees are the primary managed pollinator. When crops that require bee pollination increase, honey bee numbers needed for pollination need to keep up with the demand, and projections indicate that more and more honey bees are needed to service the agricultural industry.

We are in the process of increasing our hive numbers to deliver in tandem on agricultural crop pollination demands. Unfortunately, the droughts and fires, particularly in the Western Cape, have limited the already diminishing forage sources for bees.

So we keep losing more hives every year. This situation calls for urgent action to support the beekeeping industry to ensure that honey bees continue to contribute to our rich biodiversity and agricultural sector.

The Bee Effect focuses on addressing diminishing forage sources, aiming to stabilise the decline of honey bee populations, by providing them with the right resources which help support natural swarming. This is a process in which hives reach size capacity, and their home becomes a tight fit, which triggers the colony to start breeding new queens in anticipation of the old queen leaving the hive with half her colony to find a new home and continue the process of laying eggs and increasing that old queen swarm. Back at the old hive, the new queen does the same. And so the process continues. Diet is key to healthy immune systems, healthy hives and natural swarming.

How do honey bees affect the environment?

The entire process of supporting honey bees is linked to a far greater picture. Allow me to contextualise:


Honey bees are generalist pollinators that play a role in our global need to regenerate our biodiversity corridors to sustain the ecosystems and their functions.

They can fly up to a 5km radius in a foraging day, which means they play a role in pollinating agricultural crops. Without them, both the quality and quantity of agricultural produce and our natural environment are impacted.

Honey bees require a healthy, pollutant-free environment and this has to be achieved across industry sectors, by involving various stakeholders and the general public. They are suffering from habitat loss through urban creep and expanded monoculture farming, which is reducing the area of biodiversity corridors, as well as affecting the quality of these through pollutants – and the reduction in natural pollinators and predators who face similar threats to honey bees. 

The effect of climate change cannot be underestimated as terrain shifts with increased temperatures and associated environmental disasters like wildfires and floods. Another big challenge is addressing the issue of pesticides. The majority of chemical-producing companies sell pesticide products with active ingredients that are harmful to honey bees and the environment.


Honey bees play a major role in agriculture and are essential pollinators of more than 30% of what we eat. Recent research shows that the nutritional value of these foods is also linked to pollination. We need a viable population of honey bees to sustain our food production system and to maintain variety in our food baskets.

Honey fraud and fantasy

Moving to the retail sector, the sale of imported honey is affecting the local beekeeping industry. With each cheap imported jar of “honey” on our shelves, local beekeepers have to sell their honey at a price that is less than what it costs them to keep hives, process honey, bottle it and sell it.

The honey story is linked to fraud and deception because we know that most parts of the world, including South Africa, cannot produce the amount of honey consumed. To support our local beekeepers, we need the support of retailers. We need them to only buy non-irradiated, raw honey from local beekeepers. Why the retailers? Simply because the consumer cannot be expected to be aware of the issues regarding real honey and its authenticity. As such, they rely mostly on the ethical behaviour of their retail brands to sell them a product that is what it claims to be.

Retailers can play a pivotal role in encouraging more honey production in our country, by only buying local honey at related price points.  At the moment, beekeepers can only survive, for the most part, on the return on investment through pollination services. This is encouraging beekeepers to abandon the costly exercise of producing honey as well. They are being forced to switch their business models to predominantly pollination services, and so we are seeing less local honey production.

What is a way forward?

Retailers can get involved with educating the consumer and only selling honey products they know can be certified as local and real honey.

Consumers can demand retailer transparency so that they know that what they are buying is real honey.

We can all plant forage with honey bees and other pollinators in mind.

We can all stop the use of pesticides with active ingredients that are bad for bees and find alternatives for our gardens, public parks and playgrounds. Look out for bee-friendly products and use them responsibly according to labels, or explore natural methods, like integrating pest management.

The agricultural sector can actively switch farming models to avoid pesticides that are bad for honey bees and the environment.

What is a Bee Effect success story?

The Bee Effect is a great, up-to-date resource about better practices in our gardens and farmlands for honey bees, and their forage needs. In addition, we work with organisations such as the World Wildlife Fund South Africa to develop information that is used across the scope of their projects where information about honey bees plays a role. The ongoing awareness and education about honey bees is the success story.

Why is an initiative like this necessary in South Africa?

The issues surrounding honey bees are challenging, and in some cases, controversial, for many industry sectors. Having an independent advocacy group like The Bee Effect is important to ensure a voice that has nothing to lose in the face of adversity.

How big is The Bee Effect’s team?

As the founder of The Bee Effect, I work in collaboration with various parties to deliver on the objectives set out across initiatives. This includes, but is not limited to: Dr Tlou Masehela, a leading bee forage expert and entomologist in South Africa and previous chair of the Western Cape Bee Industry Association; Dr Julie Abisgold, a leading expert in sustainable agriculture and integrated pest management; Dr Mike Packer, a leading expert in biodiversity regeneration, reforestation and avoided deforestation; as well as relationships with association-affiliated beekeepers across the country.

What awards has The Bee Effect won?

We won the Faithful to Nature Eco Award in 2018 for the Best Grassroots Initiative.

How can people get involved?

We have various initiatives that the public can participate in, supporting bee food quality and spreading awareness about honey bees.

We offer everyone the opportunity to support planting trees that feed honey bees through our pledge programme, Trees for Honey Bees. Funds allocated for this pledge by businesses and individuals finance trees that are planted in reforestation projects. 

Safe Havens are projects where landowners can support honey bees by committing their land as a haven. The focus here is to increase hive numbers by increasing forage while working with a registered local beekeeper. This project supports beekeepers and landowners in producing local honey.

Read more about the Safe Havens programme

Schools are encouraged to plant good bee food as part of their gardening and spring programmes. They also have the opportunity to produce their own rendition of [the song] Fly My Honey Bee written by Sani Seni of Slovenia. Slovenia is a world-renowned beekeeping country responsible for motivating the declaration of a World Bee Day on 20 May each year. The Bee Effect has linked up with them to offer the score with variations for this.


What dream lies behind the starting of the initiative?

I started The Bee Effect to advocate for honey bees by driving sustained awareness and supporting forage-focused projects, programmes and products. With a marketing background, I understand how causes can be the flavour of the month as brands support relationships to drive product sales. It was a concern for me that the honey bee would become just another issue lost in the next media storm. The Bee Effect does not rely on any brand to facilitate what it is about, allowing advocacy through working with those who share the same vision.

If there is just one thing you want people to know about the initiative, what is it?

The Bee Effect is effecting change for honey bees.

What do you believe is the initiative’s most significant achievement so far?

I’m chuffed that we have been recognised as an official supporter of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration because, with our various projects and programmes, we support healthy biodiversity corridors and play a role in mitigating the effects of climate change.

What’s your favourite part of your job?

My greatest joy is opening an email or seeing a post on social media that communicates something along the lines of, “Thank you for the great work you are doing”. It really makes one feel validated in the journey. But, something that brought tears to my eyes was when a little girl threw a birthday party and decided to donate some trees for honey bees for her birthday. Children are our future. That’s when I knew I was getting something right.

Is there any other organisation you admire out there?

Greenpop is fantastically genuine in its commitment to reforestation. I enjoy working with them and I am very proud to have supported them by raising just over R440 000 to plant trees for bees under our Trees for Honey Bees pledge. 

How do you hope The Bee Effect will expand?

I am expanding forage programmes in different countries and hope to see the voice of our honey bees buzzing across the globe under The Bee Effect banner. Using Greenpop as an example, I want to enable other projects like theirs in other countries, with The Bee Effect’s voice, so that they can thrive, along with our honey bees.

What are your favourite resources about the importance of bees?

There is so much wonderful information out there about honey bees. Every article I read or video I watch teaches me something I did not know. There is a wealth of information specific to our focus on The Bee Effect’s website:

Good bee food

Standards 4 bees 

Pesticide active ingredients – Bad 4 Bees 

Honey bee facts 

This is an edited version of the article first published by Treevolution. Subscribe to their newsletter here.