Albert Einstein once said,“If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live. No more bees, no more pollination, no more men!” These days you don’t have to be Einstein to recognise the alarming effects that a drop in worldwide bee populations is having on agriculture and biodiversity on our planet.
Luckily, governments, experts and civil society are waking up and on Monday, bees were once more in the headlines. This time as The European Union pushed through a two year ban, starting December, on neonicotinoid inseciticides: the nerve- agent pesticide seen to be the culprit for the dramatic drop in bee populations in recent years. These insecticides have been found to impair the flight of the bee and their homing ability causing many bees not to return home after a day out of the hive as well as their ability to discriminate by smell. The immune system is also affected by insecticides. Although scientific opinions remain split on whether the use of the insecticide is the main cause of the decline in bee populations (other factors are climate change and the presence of mites in bee colonies to the use of GSM systems in cell-phones as well as the cultivation of GM crops), environmental groups are celebrating the victory and see it as a step in the right direction in recognising the severity of the bee crisis and the implications for both biodiversity and food security.
So why are bees so important? The reason that bees are so crucial in maintaining ecosystems and in crop production is because insects (particularly bees) are pollinators. According to the FAO, “Pollinators strongly influence ecological relationships, ecosystem conservation and stability, genetic variation in the plant community, floral diversity, specialization and evolution. Bees play an important, but little recognized role in most terrestrial ecosystems where there is green vegetation cover for at least 3 to 4 months each year.” Simply put, the existence of most fruits, seeds, nuts and other crops are dependent on pollination by both wild and honey bees. In turn, the animals (including us humans) that eat these foods depend on bee pollination for its continued supply.
So how serious is the bee crisis? The fate of the commercial bee in the US seems to be quite bleak where 50-90 % of bees are affected by ‘Colony Collapse’ while in the UK, a third of bees have disappeared with the diversity of wild bees falling by as much as 52 percent since 1980. Numbers in the rest of Europe are equally alarming with Germany’s population having fallen by over 60 percent with similar numbers for other countries.
In India, less information is known but evidence points to the fact that here too, a significant drop in both honey bee and wild bee populations is notable and is showing serious consequences. This is especially true in North India. Quantifiable results are less available in India however anecdotal evidence shows that some serious consequences are surfacing. According to Tehelka, there is evidence that some farmers have had to abandon production due to falling bee populations. This is especially true in mango production where bees are avoiding mango trees altogether. For Indians , the implications are huge as vegetables, nuts and fruits, which form the basis of most healthy diets, are all reliant on bees.
Whether through lobbying governments, boycotting insecticide producers or simply through cultivating crops that support bee populations in your own backyard, it is time for all citizens to wake up to this worrying phenomenon and contribute to the preservation of our bee populations before they are lost forever.
Author: Carrie Byrne/ RESET editorial