In order to be able to feed the world’s growing population, we need ever more food, which must be diverse, balanced and of good quality to ensure the progress and well-being of humankind.
Honey bees are amazing insects that have a lot of impact on humans. They are hardworking creatures that underpin the sustenance of life in this planet earth. However, people have increasingly predisposed them to unfavorable environments, leading to massive deaths. Bees are renowned for their role in providing high-quality food like honey, royal jelly and pollen and other products used in healthcare and other sectors like beeswax, propolis and honey bee venom. The greatest contribution of bees and other pollinators is the pollination of nearly three quarters of the plants that produce 90% of the world’s food. A third of the world’s food production depends on bees, i.e. every third spoonful of food depends on pollination. In addition to being one of the major pollinators, thus ensuring food and food security, sustainable agriculture and biodiversity, bees significantly contribute to the mitigation of climate change and environmental conservation. In the long-term, the protection of bees and the beekeeping sector can help reduce poverty and hunger, as well as preserve a healthy environment and biodiversity. Scientific studies have proven that bees have become increasingly endangered and it is only through joint efforts that we can ensure the protection of bees and their habitats.
If all of the world’s bees died off, there would be major rippling effects throughout ecosystems. A number of plants, such as many of the bee orchids, are pollinated exclusively by specific bees, and they would die off without human intervention. This would alter the composition of their habitats and affect the food webs they are part of and would likely trigger additional extinctions or declines of dependent organisms. Other plants may utilize a variety of pollinators, but many are most successfully pollinated by bees. Without bees, they would set fewer seeds and would have lower reproductive success. This too would alter ecosystems. Beyond plants, many animals, such as the beautiful bee-eater birds, would lose their prey in the event of a die-off, and this would also impact natural systems and food webs.
Celebrated every year on 20 May since 2017, the World Bee Day was proposed by Slovenia, which is the birth anniversary of Anton Janša, a Slovenian beekeeper and the pioneer of modern beekeeping, who was born on this day in 1734. Also in May, the northern hemisphere sees bees and nature develop profusely, while the southern hemisphere enters autumn, when hive products are harvested and the season of honey and honey-based products begins.
This day has become increasingly important in recent times. Bees have become increasingly endangered of late. The 2015 IUCN report, which contains the first comprehensive assessment of the European bee species, states that nearly 10% of bees are facing extinction, and around 5% of them are probably endangered, while no data is available for nearly 57% of species. The number of pollinators is in decline around the world, while the need for pollination is on the rise, especially in developing countries. In some parts, this situation has become known as the pollinator crisis. According to researchers, the main reasons for the mortality of bees include diseases specific to bees, the mass use of products intended to protect plants in modern farming and their potential impact on pollinators, especially plant protection products whose harmful effect on bees has been documented, new pests which spread faster due to globalisation, urbanisation, which is shrinking the agricultural space, climate change and the global trade in low-quality honey, which impacts the beekeeping economy. A study published in the journal Lancet predicts that smaller consumption of fruit and vegetables due to climate change which also affects pollinators, will cause twice as many deaths by 2050 than hunger and malnutrition.
We need to act now. Present species extinction rates are 100 to 1,000 times higher than normal due to human impact. Close to 35 percent of invertebrate pollinators, particularly bees and butterflies, and about 17 percent of vertebrate pollinators, such as bats, face extinction globally. If this trend continues, nutritious crops, such as fruits, nuts and many vegetable crops will be substituted increasingly by staple crops like rice, corn and potatoes, eventually resulting in an imbalanced diet. Intensive farming practices, land-use change, mono-cropping, pesticides and higher temperatures associated with climate change all pose problems for bee populations and, by extension, the quality of food we grow.
So what can we as individuals do? We can plant a diverse set of native plants, which flower at different times of the year, buy raw honey from local farmers, buy products from sustainable agricultural practices, avoid pesticides, fungicides or herbicides in gardens, protect wild bee colonies when possible, sponsor a hive, make a bee water fountain by leaving a water bowl outside, help sustain forest ecosystems and raise awareness by sharing information within our communities and networks. Remember, the decline of bees affects us all!