The main concept underpinning PLANT-B is the development of a diversified farming system of citrus and Aromatic Medicinal Plants (AMPs) in combination with apiculture, which would make best use of resources (agricultural land, low pesticide input, endemic honey bee subspecies best suited to Mediterranean conditions, enhancement of pollination & biocontrol), improve (quality, safety, security) citrus fruit and honey produce, and increase the farmers’ and beekeepers’ income.

The present status in citrus culture and honey production constitute indeed a challenging situation for such a farming system, that could be described as follows:

The introduction of honeybee hives in citrus orchards during flowering is a common practice in most Mediterranean countries, facilitating the pollination needs of citrus and providing an income for beekeepers. This practice is not followed in Spain, since pollination increases the formation of seeds lowering the fruit marketability. Nevertheless, in the countries where beehives are introduced in or near citrus orchards, growers and beekeepers may have conflicting interests, mainly from improper use of pesticides.

The combined, citrus-AMPs-beekeeping system of PLANT-B, could facilitate a more efficient land use, optimizing pollination services by honeybees and benefiting both the crop and beehive products. It can provide habitats for honeybees and other insect pollinators during the off-flowering crop season, increasing the sustainability of pollination and biological control services in citrus crop, and enhance the biodiversity in the agroecosystem.

Plant protection needs of Citrus may differ along the Mediterranean basin, as some major pests are common among the countries, but there are also others of local distribution (e.g. Bactrocera zonata is wide spread in Egypt, but is a quarantine pest in the EU). Also, plant protection systems in citrus vary across the Mediterranean countries from organic to IPM and conventional. Nevertheless, the impact of pesticide use on food safety and the environmental sustainability of intensive production systems is currently subject to scrutiny. Indeed, the numerous honeybee mortality cases, linked to contaminant pesticide residues found in dead bees and beehives, is a clear indicator of the high pressure affecting these agro-ecosystems.

Improper use of pesticides in the citrus crop can potentially lead to: a) violations of maximum residues limits (MRLs) and therefore to the decline and prohibition of many export shipments, representing a pivotal problem for exporting Mediterranean countries such as Egypt; b) adversely affect HB and other pollinating insects as well as communities of other non-target species such as natural enemies, hence influence pollination and biological control services in citrus; c) pesticide residues in honey, degrading honey quality properties. As a result, a trend of beekeepers going out of business because of low returns is recorded. Improvement of honey quality, traceability, and subsequently, higher prices can reverse this trend.

A transition to modern IPM tools, technologies, and practices that enable low pesticide inputs, such as those to be tested in PLANT-B, is considered necessary to lessen the pressure in citrus cultivation while supporting food security and food safety. Conservation and exploitation of endemic honeybee subspecies resistant to major honeybee pests such as the Varroa mite are in the same direction. Furthermore, valorization from a productive point of view of endemic honeybee sub-species is very important because to date the worldwide beekeeping industry relies on a very few subspecies historically bred for aims that do not take into rightful account several emerging challenges (such as climate changes, poor environmental quality, foraging shortages, and pests dispersal in a globalized world), which are seriously threatening this economically-relevant species.

Finally, the assessment of pesticide residues in citrus fruits and honey will ensure the safety of both products for human consumption. Furthermore, the determination of quality, safety specifications and traceability in honey, will help to safeguard its quality and verify its high nutritional value, consistency, and purity.

Duration: 36 months (01-10-2019 to 01-10-2022)

Budget: 2.082.675,73 €

Funding: PRIMA – Partnership for Research and Innovation in the Mediterranean Area