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World Bee Day: Are bees for honey, buzzing and stinging only?

Are bees for honey, buzzing and stinging only? What will happen if we take away the bees and other pollinators, such as butterflies, bats, hummingbirds, beetles, wasps and moths from our environment?

The answer is simple but catastrophic: food production will slow down because many plants and food crops will not reproduce. Without the bees and other pollinators, many important crops will not reproduce, thus, affecting the food supply for both humans and thousands of animal species.

On May 20, the international community celebrated World Bee Day. The observance commemorated the birthday of Anton JanA!a, the pioneer of beekeeping, who was born in 1734.

A native of Slovenia, JanA!a pioneered in modern beekeeping techniques. But beyond commemorating the birth of the father of beekeeping, World Bee Day acknowledged the role of bees and other pollinators in ensuring food security, human health and biodiversity conservation, all of which are key factors in sustainable development.

Bees: Small but valuable

Bees rely on plants for their food. Adult bees collect pollen to feed their young and nectar for their own energy requirements. In turn, bees serve as pollen vectors, and as they fly, transport the pollen from flower to flower.

According to the Earth Day Network (EDN), there are more than 20,000 bee species around the world. There are 369,000 flowering plant species, and 90 percent of them are dependent on insect pollination.

The EDN reported that a honeybee could visit 50 to 1,000 flowers in one trip. If each bee takes 10 trips a day, a colony with 25,000 bees can pollinate 250 million flowers in a day.

The EDN further stated that many species of animals depend on bees for their survival because their food source, including nuts, berries, seeds and fruits, relies on insect pollination, which makes food available for other organisms and floral growth, which, in turn, provides habitats for animals, including other insects and birds.

According to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, 'pollinators, such as bees, are a source of multiple benefits to people, beyond food provisioning, contributing directly to medicines, biofuels [e.g., canola and palm oil], fibers [e.g., cotton and linen], construction materials [timbers], musical instruments, arts and crafts, recreational activities and as sources of inspiration for art, music, literature, religion, traditions, technology and education.

'Pollinators serve as important spiritual symbols in many cultures. Sacred passages about bees in all the worlds' major religions highlight their significance to human societies over millennia.'

A US White House report revealed that crops pollinated by bees make up 35 percent of global food production, which is valued at $577 billion.

California alone produces 50 percent to 80 percent of the world's almond harvest. Spread across 800,000 acres, California's almond orchards typically require 1.6 million domesticated bee colonies to pollinate the flowering trees and produce the state's largest agricultural export.

The bees are in danger!

A 2013 report by Elizabeth Grossman-'Declining Bee Populations Pose a Threat to Global Agriculture'-revealed that during the past 10 years, beekeepers, mostly in Europe and the United States, have been reporting annual bee losses of 30 percent or higher.

The United Nations Environment Programme said that in the US alone, one in four wild bee species is at risk of extinction.

Why is the bee population declining? Habitat fragmentation, colony collapse disorder, increased use of neonicotinoid pesticides and climate change are some of the reasons bee population is in danger.

Nicole Miller-Struttman of the US Public Library of Science reported that food availability restricts bee populations, particularly in urbanized and agricultural settings.

Land conversion to housing, roads and other human infrastructure restrict and isolate patches of flowering plants. Intensively farmed regions with mass-flowering crops provide insufficient resources for bees, which require nectar and pollen throughout the foraging season. Wild habitats are exhibiting similar deficits due to climate change.

Invasive insects, parasites, exposure to agrochemicals such as pesticides, land-use change, monocropping practices and harsh climate may reduce available nutrients and pose threats to bee colonies.

All things are interconnected

In her message for World Bee Day, Dr. Theresa Mundita S. Lim, executive director of the Asean Centre for Biodiversity (ACB), said without the bees and other pollinators, there will be no food diversity.

Bees are very helpful to many flowering plant species, which can only produce seeds if pollinators move their pollen from the anthers to the stigmas of their flowers. This, she said, is an example of service from ecosystem and biodiversity.

Lim explained that bees and other pollinators ensure the abundance of seeds, nuts and fruits, as well as their variety.

'There will be no continuity of species in the absence of pollination services. Continuous reproduction of fruits and vegetables directly contribute to human health by providing us with balanced nutrition,' Lim said.

Commenting on the threats confronting bees and other pollinators, Lim said, 'The negative impacts of harsh climate and irresponsible human activities on pollination services affect not only flora and humans, but also all life forms because it threatens the food security of fauna, which in turn, exacerbates greater biodiversity loss, resulting in the faster decline of even more ecosystem services.

'Clearly, all things in this world are interconnected. The loss of one of the smallest of creatures like bees could have a large impact on human and animal survival.'

Global and regional efforts to save our bees

Lim said global and regional efforts are ongoing to save the bees and other pollinators. She cited the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which has made conservation and sustainable use of pollinators a priority.

In 2000, the CBD established the International Pollinator Initiative as a cross-cutting initiative to promote coordinated action worldwide to monitor pollinator decline, its causes and its impact on pollination services; address the lack of taxonomic information on pollinators; assess the economic value of pollination and the economic impact of the decline of pollination services; and promote the conservation and the restoration and sustainable use of pollinator diversity in agriculture and related ecosystems.

At the regional level, Lim cited John Ascher, and John Pickering's 2018. Discover Life Bee Species Guide and World Checklist, which reported that there are about 970 species of bees found in the Asean region.

The top 3 countries in bee species are Indonesia (463), followed by Malaysia (266) and Thailand (228).

Lim said that as signatories to the CBD, the 10 Asean member-states-Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam-with support from the ACB, are working to protect the bees and other pollinators through a variety of programs on species and ecosystems conservation, protected area management and wildlife conservation.

The Philippines, for example, hosted a conference on how bees can be protected from systemic pesticides in Marinduque from May 16 to 19.

What can we do to save the bees?

Although governments and organizations all over the world and in the Asean region are involved in protecting and caring for bees and other pollinators, individuals can contribute in their own little ways to ensure the survival of our pollinators.

The FAO recommends the following actions:

Plant nectar-bearing flowers for decorative purposes on balconies, terraces and gardens;

Buy honey and other hive products from your nearest local beekeeper;

Raise awareness among children and adolescents on the importance of bees and express your support for beekeepers;

Set up a pollinator farm on your balcony, terrace or garden;

Offer suitable farming locations for the temporary or permanent settlement of bees so that they have suitable pasture (as a consequence, they will pollinate our plants, which will thereby bear more fruit);

Use pesticides that do not harm bees, and spray them in windless weather, either early in the morning or late at night, when bees withdraw from blossoms; and

Mulch blooming plants in orchards before spraying them with pesticides so that they do not attract bees after being sprayed.

Whether governments or individual citizens, we owe our survival to the bees.
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Publication:Business Mirror (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:May 27, 2019
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