Belgium-bred bumblebees are flying from Belgium to Africa - week after week. Not by themselves though but in their hives loaded in the holds of Brussels Airlines’ operated A330 aircraft. Transporting these insects southbound is good business for the producer, but also for SN Cargo, its general sales agent ECS and particularly local African farmers that enjoy better crops thanks to their imported flying helpers.
It all began in a garage at a small Belgian town named Westerlo more than 25 years ago. There, newly founded Biobest NV began breeding the first colonies of bumblebees. What started small has meanwhile become a formidable biz with dozens of colonies leaving the firm each week. And so it was that 16 different queens with their colonies consisting of roughly 4,000 workers left Brussels last Monday flown by Brussels Airlines Cargo to Senegal in West Africa.
“They need a constant temperature of 16 to 18 degrees in their hives during the entire transport,” explains Herman Hoornaert, Head of Cargo at Brussels Airlines. “Today we fly them to Dakar, where upon arrival they are immediately brought to farms to start pollinating plants.”
Bumblebees are more productive than honeybees
Enhancing agricultural results is their job which they are better at compared to honeybees, surveys have shown. This explains why local consignees import these extremely productive and easy to manage insects. “Today it’s the Senegal, tomorrow we’ve got bumblebees on board our fleet to be flown to Morocco,” the manager adds. In some African countries it’s a seasonal biz, to others the colonies are shipped throughout the whole year.
Bumblebee colonies brought from Belgium to Africa to increase the fertilization of plants and better the crops are good business for Brussels Airlines.
This also accounts for the carrier’s general sales agent Globe Air Cargo, a member of the Paris-headquartered globally acting ECS group. Amazingly enough, this GSA is responsible for filling the cargo compartments of Brussels Airlines’ fleet with shipments for more than a decade, precisely said, since 2001. This accounts for all flights on the entire network, except SN Cargo’s northbound traffic ex Africa. There, Brussels Airlines has either set up its own stations, in Dakar for instance, or cooperates with different local agents.
Projected business objectives are mostly achieved or even exceeded
The long-time pact between the carrier and its French GSA seems to have paid off for both sides over the years. “In most cases our sales targets in tonnage and revenues set up at the beginning of a fiscal year were fully matched or even surpassed by the ECS group members,” applauds manager Hoornaert. It was only in times when global cargo volumes went sharply down due to general economic hiccups like in 2009 that ECS slightly missed the targets set.
“Currently, we generate annual revenues for our partner Brussels Airlines somewhere in the mid- to double digit million euro range,” states Managing Director Wim van Nerum of GSA Aero Cargo that is one of the ECS group members. Accordingly it can be assumed that his firm’s commission has steadily increased year by year. Unfortunately, he refuses to elaborate further on this financial aspect.
ECS ensures additional business
SN’s Herman stresses another important point by saying that “ECS even generates new business for us.” This is directly confirmed by Sales and Ops Manager Steven van Lint of ECS subsidiary Globe Air Cargo who speaks of about 80 to 100 additional tons per month generated by his firm on combined flights from the U.S. via Brussels to any of the seventeen sub-Saharan destinations served by SN Cargo.
“We utilize the freighter capacity of our client Asiana Airlines from JFK into Brussels and transfer all goods destined to Africa and booked from us right at the start on SN’s Air Waybill prefix 082 to our partner Brussels Cargo at Zaventem Airport for immediate onward transportation.”
So what is the difference of the cargo biz on trade lanes to Africa compared to the biz conducted on traditional lanes like Europe-North America or Far East to Europe? “Africa – that’s far less general cargo and regular traffic. It’s more a mix of everything such as household goods, pharmaceuticals, foodstuff, supermarket supplies, vaccines, fertilizers, equipment for the mining industry or chemical items like paints and detergents,” states Wim van Nerum of Aero Cargo. That’s why many small and medium sized forwarding agents have specialized on the African niche, where quite a number of them have gained remarkable knowledge over the years. This is a strong binding tool for long-time cooperation with shippers and local African consignees.
For the bumblebees flown to Dakar this aspect was supposedly of little concern. More important for the 16 queens and their colonies was that they were set free at different Senegalese farms after having been caged for 17 hours.