An interdisciplinary team of Researchers from Makerere University College of Computing and Information Sciences (CoCIS) have designed the Smart bee Monitor ready to conduct its first trials in the field in December 2022. This is the first time the device will be taken out of the laboratory to test how it performs in monitoring bee hives.
The first deployment is going to take place at the university apiary in Namulonge which will act as the study site for this first prototype, while several others will be stationed in different fruit farms and game parks in East Africa to predict the well-being of bees under different environments.
CoCIS researchers in a collaborative project dubbed, “Adaptive Environment Monitoring Network Africa (AdEMNEA)” revealed this new development during the project 2022 first Annual conference held at Kolping Hotel In Kampala on 16th-17th November 2022. The project commencement in 2021.
The Project is funded by NORAD under the NORHED II programme supported for five years with the main emphasis on Southern partners. It builds on past success and results from the WIMEA project which automated weather services funded under the NORHED I framework with several other projects currently funded with NTNU and Makerere as partners.
The partners in the AdEMNEA project are the Norwegian University for Science and Technology as the lead partner and the Southern partners led by Makerere University, the Dar es Salaam Institute of Technology (Tanzania) and the University of Juba (South Sudan). Other partners are the University of Bergen (Norway), the Uganda Meteorological Authority, NaCCRI and NARO. Other partners are the Ministry of Agriculture (MAAIF), The Uganda National Apiary Development Organisation (TUNADO), Research and Education Network for Uganda (RENU) and Fruit / Bee farmers (Nwoya fruit growers cooperative society and Green Zabu Farm).
At Makerere University the project is being led by Dr. Julianne Sansa Otim with staff from the College of Engineering Design and Art (CEDAT) and the College of Veterinary Medicine Animal Resources and Biosecurity (CoVAB).
Speaking during the annual conference, the Principal Investigator Makerere University Dr. Julianne Sansa Otim said, they are rolling out an adaptive resilient network infrastructure connectivity where data gathering instruments in the field can send their data through the internet.
“We are building this network and we want to contribute to protecting bees and building instruments that will gather data about bees and fruit flies. We are putting in place the smart bee monitor and have designed the first generation that it can gather the data that can help insect scientists to tell the health of the bees and the environment and aspects that are helpful to make conclusions”, Dr. Julianne Sansa Otim said.
Dr. Julianne Sansa Otim stressed that bees are endangered yet they are the biggest pollinators responsible for most of the fruits and vegetables. Bees according to Dr. Julianne Sansa Otim contribute towards biodiversity as other creatures rely on them for existence.
“The challenge is that because of climate change, different human factors and agro-chemicals, bees are on the decline and becoming extinct. For the remaining bees, we need to find ways of discovering what is affecting them, where do they thrive, which kind of plants do they like.
Most of the wild places where bees used to thrive have been converted into commercial farms and buildings so we need the optimize the smaller spaces remaining for bees”. She added.
She noted that as they investigate and deploy instruments out there, they will establish plants where bees can stay longer and multiply and help to come up with interventions to protect those tree species.
She reported that monitoring insects has traditionally been via manual observation and count by specialists such as entomologists and extension workers going in the bushes yet there are few specialists in Uganda and Africa that makes this method ineffective. In Uganda, it is estimated that there is one entomologist per region with less than eight entomologists in the MAAIF employed to do this work for the entire country.
The deployment of such tools in the field means that one entomologist in one place can be able to gather different data from different places. And because bees are mostly found where there are fruits and vegetables, and, one of the common pests in fruits being fruit flies, the project looked at both pollinators: – the bees which researchers want to protect and multiply and, fruit flies for study and destruction.
Fruit flies are known to be the biggest pests affecting mangoes leading to losses and likewise the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Industry and Fisheries that is responsible for monitoring and controlling pests is limited by the number of specialists.
Makerere University’s PhD student behind the design of the smart bee monitor Dr. Agatha Turyagenda said the goal is to solve the inefficiencies that come about with manual inspections of bee hives in Uganda which is associated with less productivity among Ugandan bee farmers.
Studies have shown that world over, the number of bees have declined but no study has been conducted in Uganda as farmers continue to complain about bees absconding to come to bee hives.
AdMNEA project researchers are investigating to come up with a solution to combat some of the challenges bee farmers are faced with.
“The smart bee hive has several parameters capturing images and videos, at the entrance of the bee hive and, temperature and humidity as well as carbon dioxide levels inside the bee hive and the weight of the bee hive.
All these parameters are then transferred to a remote website that anyone can be able to see as long as they have internet connectivity. So this can be on a mobile phone or laptop.
In the future we will be able to use the information collected to be able to develop programmes that can tell us which pests and diseases have infected the bee hive, if the queen is absent or present, it can tell us if the bees are preparing to swarm, the honey productivity, the weight module and also indicate the right time to harvest honey”, Dr. Turyagenda explained
Entomologist Dr. Deborah Ruth Amulen from CoVAB reported that whereas bees constitute 70% of the world’s crop pollination, their population has declined due to pesticide application, climate change, land use change and diseases.
Amulen observed that the traditional way of inspecting bee hives is time consuming, requires skills and knowledge, disrupts inside hive micro climate and risk of distributing diseases of bees while useful variables such as temperature, humidity, gases cannot be ascertained hence the need to automate the process.
“For entomologists, the smart bee monitor will help us to know when to harvest honey, when the bees are sick, when the population of bees is down so that we can check the hive and address the problem.
The smart bee hive is one of the common bee hives farmers use but the ICT team has modified it with sensors after which entomologist will populate them with bees and deploy them in fruit farms, university farms and in apiaries near the national parks so that we can compare what is happening in hives and in fruit farms where they spray a lot of chemicals.
We can therefore monitor and tell if the bees will be very sick or dying, whether the production of honey is lower compared to bees that are near national parks and where there is no chemical use near the national parks” Dr. Amulen stated.
Regular manual inspection of fruit fly traps according to Dr. Amulen is also inconvenient, misses out on critical data points such as the phenotype, density, diversity and relationships between variables such as population and weather toward prediction of infestation.
Principal Communication Officer CoCIS.