There’s a buzz around JSE-listed Emira Property Fund right now – and it’s nothing to do with the stock exchange. While bulls and bears tend to be associated with the world of listed property, Emira is quietly putting its weight behind another essential commodity: bees.
Since 2020, SA REIT Emira (JSE: EMI) has installed 16 beehives at eight of its properties in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal – and more are planned, wherever and whenever suitable.
According to Ulana van Biljon, Chief Operating Officer of Emira: “The beehive project was chosen to address the decline of global bee populations, which contribute so much to society, as well as the biodiversity of our properties.”
Bees are vital for pollinating plants, including food crops. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), a full third of global food production depends on bees as pollinators.
Simply put, all life on the planet relies on these essential workers, but they are increasingly threatened by human activity, under grave threat from habitat loss, pesticides, air pollution and climate change.
“Our bee conservation project is a holistic approach to reducing the impact of environmental degradation, which goes beyond planting trees,” says van Biljon.
The first hives were installed in August 2020 at Knightsbridge office park in the heart of the Bryanston business node, and Hyde Park Lane, a tranquil corporate address in Sandton.
These sites were selected, according to van Biljon, “due to their safe site location, the biodiversity of the surrounding landscape and the abundance of flowering plants which provide the nectar flow for the bees to produce honey.”
Subsequently, beehives were introduced at Wonderpark Shopping Centre in Pretoria North; One Highveld industrial premises in Centurion, Pretoria; Springfield open-air retail centre in Umgeni, Durban; Park Boulevard local shopping centre in Durban North; Albury Park, a garden-life office environment in Dunkeld, Johannesburg; and Epsom Downs Office Park near William Nicol offramp, Sandton.
Safety concerns were carefully considered, says van Biljon, noting that the public live in harmony with bees anyway: there are many natural swarms of bees throughout South African cities.
Emira’s beehives are managed in a safe, controlled environment, away from areas of heavy foot traffic and clearly sign-posted, while beekeeping activities take place at night.
The results so far have been sweet: these busy little workers have produced 85kg of honey to date from five hive sites: Knightsbridge (8kg), One Highveld (15kg), Hyde Park Lane (19kg), Wonderpark (20kg) and Albury Park (23kg).
The first honey harvests were shared amongst Emira staff and a few service providers, creating awareness of the importance of preserving biodiversity. It is their intention to make future honey available for their tenants at those properties that have the hives.
To the delight of the recipients, the honey collected from different properties all tasted unique. Bees tend to collect nectar within 3km of their hive, which meant Johannesburg honey was crafted largely from exotic garden ornamental plants like jasmine, lavender, rosemary and jacaranda trees. Meanwhile, Pretoria North – where hives are situated at Wonderpark Shopping Centre – has more indigenous plants, acacias, and grassland flowers, meaning honey with darker, flavourful herbal tannins.
All of it was delicious.
The honey is not for sale, although Emira is open to investigating charity initiatives as their buzzy new tenants continue to upscale production; instead, the profit is in biodiversity.
“Biodiversity is vital for healthy ecosystems, which support human well-being and the economy,” says van Biljon. “Healthy ecosystems form the ecological infrastructure of the country, providing clean air and water, fertile soil, and food.”
As part of Emira’s dedication to good environmental, social, and governance (ESG) practices, it has committed to a “No Net Future Loss” policy, conserving and promoting biodiversity across its portfolio and reducing the company’s impact on the environment.
“The country’s natural ecosystems are threatened by land use change, degradation and invasive alien species,” according to van Biljon. “Climate change worsens these threats, but healthy ecosystems offer natural solutions that increase resilience. They protect communities from extreme weather events and enhance natural resources, livelihoods, food security, and habitats for animals and plants.”
With the beehive project, Emira is putting the bee firmly into business, living up to its reputation as a truly diversified, balanced real estate investment trust.