Bees are dying and you should be worried.
On the 20th of May, the UN has celebrated the bees in recognition of their invaluable work as pollinators as well as producers of honey and wax; a cause we here at Trianon Scientific Communication emphatically like to join!
Hurray for the bees!
Accepting a proposal by Slovenia, the 20th of May has been entered by the UN as World Bee Day into their list of minor secular observances.
The reason for this date is that the 20th of May was the birthday of Anton Janša, who is the father of modern beekeeping (or apiculture, to use its more formal name), and the reason why Slovenia proposed the date is that Janša was born in what is now Slovenia (then Carnolia, a part of the Habsburg Empire).
Beekeeping, an ancient art
Honey has been recognised as food since time immemorial and gathering honey is one of the oldest activities of mankind.
Cave paintings found in Spain estimated to be some 8,000 years old clearly show a human trying to get honey out of a beehive in a tree while being surrounded by swarming bees.
Archaeological and scriptural evidence for apiculture have been found the world over, from ancient China, to Central America, from ancient Greece, to Egypt.
Ancient beekeeping suffered from one fundamental flaw: In accessing the honey the hive was destroyed and the bees had to be killed. The solution to this was the invention of beehives with removable frames in which the bees construct the honeycomb.
Most plants require some sort of facilitation in the transfer of pollen from the male part to the female part of the plant (pollination).
This transfer is important because without it plants would not generate the seeds required to proliferate.
Pollination might occur by meteorological influences such as wind and rain or by animals such as birds, bats, monkeys, and squirrels. And bees!
The importance of bees as pollinators for the ecosystem in general and human survival in particular could hardly be overstated.
The role of honey as food may be negligible but considering that more than 75% of the world’s food crops depend on animals for their pollination.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) lists 7 common fruits and vegetables which critically depend on bees for pollination, namely almonds, apples, blueberries, cucumbers, onions, pumpkins, and strawberries.
This short list shows the importance of bees.[ibid.]
“If bees disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live.”
This sentence is attributed to Albert Einstein, although there is no clear proof that he actually did say that.
In addition, many important crop plants are self-pollinated (e.g. soy beans) or wind pollinated (e.g. rice and wheat) so whether we as a species would really have only four years left to live if the bees disappeared is debatable.
What is not debatable is that the disappearance of the bees would cause disruptions to the world’s economy compared to which the disruptions caused by the Covid pandemic would be a mere summer stroll, and ecologically speaking the disappearance of an important species would have a large tail of knock-on effects as well.
Threats to the bees
According to the FAO “bees and other pollinators are declining in abundance in many parts of the world largely due to intensive farming practices, mono-cropping, excessive use of agricultural chemicals and higher temperatures associated with climate change, affecting not only crop yields but also nutrition.
If this trend continues, nutritious crops such as fruits, nuts, and many vegetables will be substituted increasingly by staple crops like rice, corn, and potatoes, eventually resulting in an imbalanced diet.”
What can we do?
As consumers, we can demand fruit and veggies grown according to green standards, i.e. without the use of pesticides.
To know more, read our article
If you’ve got a garden avoid the use of fungi-, herbi-, or pesticides.
Leave out a small dish of water for the bees to drink from.
Plant flowers and/or bushes/trees which flower at different times of the year.
Urban beekeeping is on the increase in many cities around the world.
For instance, Paris employs an official beekeeper.
You might also consider sponsoring a hive.
As farmers, try to avoid monocultures (or, at least, plant flowers around or near the fields).
Also, avoid the use of fungi-, herbi-, or pesticides if possible.
Read more about environmental sustainability in our blog.