Bobrovka (Russia) (AFP)

Anatoly Rubtsov casts a look of spite on his hives. "The operation was noisy, it sang," he recalls. Now, a slight buzzing is barely heard and a smell of rotten flesh floats in the air.

The beekeeper in the Tula region, south of Moscow, said that almost all of his more than 80 colonies died this year, according to him a pesticide. This represents more than three million bees and he estimates his losses at 1.6 million rubles (22,700 euros).

Around Bobrovka, where Anatoly Rubtsov lives, all the bees had the same fate. More than 60 beekeepers started a difficult fight to get compensation but some ended up throwing in the towel.

According to the national beekeeping association, Tula is one of 30 regions in Russia affected in recent weeks by a bee hecatomb, already observed in many countries.

The Ministry of Agriculture recognizes that the deaths caused "considerable damage" to beekeeping: 300,000 colonies out of 3.3 million perished in the country.

Russian health authorities recognize that the death of bees was due to the uncontrolled use of insecticides. "The volume of pesticides used and their quality is not controlled by the government," said a spokesman for Rosselkhoznadzor this month to Russian news agencies, Yulia Melano.

In Bobrovka, everyone accuses a rapeseed producer who treated his fields with a very potent insecticide containing fipronil on 4 July. The offending company assured AFP that it followed all the instructions.

"The rapeseed in flower has a great attraction for the bees, for it was like an ambush," said Mr. Rubtsov, while in his hives, some bees crawl chaotically, unable to fly. "They are living dead, the entire farm is doomed."

- Pesticides involved -

Considered by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) as presenting a "high acute risk for the survival of bees, the use of fipronil has been highly regulated in the European Union since 2013, even more so since a recent scandal. eggs contaminated with fipronil broke out in the Netherlands and Belgium in 2017.

In Russia, fipronil, like other insecticides using neonicotinoids and banned in Europe, is allowed. It can be spread on cereals, potatoes and pastures, but only at night, in the absence of wind and as long as the bees are kept away for several days.

Conditions that growers are blithely ignoring, say beekeepers interviewed by AFP. They note with bitterness that Europe is producing biodiesel, supposedly more environmentally friendly, with Russian oilseed rape growing thanks to toxic insecticides.

"Rapeseed has become very widespread throughout the region," says Viktor Morozov, a beekeeper who lost 50 bee colonies in July, the worst hecatomb he has seen in 40 years.

While rapeseed is declining in the EU, it has more than doubled in Russia over the past decade. Since 2018, it has increased from 1,576 to 1,680 hectares, according to official estimates.

Producers would turn to more potent, sometimes illegal, insecticides as pests become more resistant.

- "No help" -

"Rapeseed is in high demand, insecticides are expensive and sometimes they are diluted with low-cost toxic products and ignore the rules of application," Anna Brandorf, head of the Russian national research center, told AFP. beekeeping.

"Nobody controls that," she adds. "And nobody coordinates the action of beekeepers and farmers".

According to Anna Bradorf, many beekeepers risk giving up their activity at a time when Russia, like China or many European countries before it, is affected in turn by a bee hecatomb.

The difference is that in Russia, beekeepers do not receive any government support, she adds.

On his phone, Viktor Morozov shows pictures taken near the rapeseed fields nearby: empty boxes of Fipronil are placed on the ground. But when he contacted the local farmers, they denied using it.

A Moscow laboratory confirmed that the rape plants contained fipronil.

Go to court for compensation at a cost that most beekeepers can not afford.

"The banned pesticides in Europe have all been sent here to Russia", denounces Viktor Morozov, "someone must take responsibility".

© 2019 AFP