No bees, no food

No bees, no food

Bees have an important role in nature. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, bees are part of the biodiversity on which we all depend for our survival. Bees, as we all know, are pollinators. They pick up the pollen of flowers and spread it allowing plants, including many food crops, to reproduce. Other species like birds also pollinate, but the most common pollinators are insects, and among them, bees.

Pollinators contribute directly to food security. According to bee experts at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, a third of the world’s food production depends on bees. Bees also provide us with honey and other products such as beeswax, propolis and honeybee venom.

Sadly, the important role of bees in the environment is negatively impacted by humans. It’s ironic, that we who depend on these insects for growing our food, are the ones harming or killing them - though unintentionally - by our activities.

For instance, farmers spray their crops with pesticides to kill pests, but they also harm friendly insects. A research by the University of Oxford in England revealed that bumblebees cannot taste pesticides present in nectar, even at lethal concentrations. This means bumblebees are not able to avoid contaminated nectar, putting them at high risk of pesticide exposure and posing a threat to crop pollination.

What is the effect on bees? A study done by Trinity College Dublin confirmed that bee colonies exposed to pesticides saw significant reductions in total colony production (the number of cocoons), maximum colony weight, and the number of new queens. This is happening despite tightened pesticide regulations.

It's not just pesticides, air pollution too. A research team comprising the United Kingdom Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and the Universities of Birmingham, Reading, Surrey and Southern Queensland, found that ozone, an air pollutant when it’s on the ground, substantially changes the size and scent of floral odor plumes given off by flowers, and that it reduced honeybees' ability to recognize odors by up to 90% from just a few meters away.

Ground-level ozone is a pollutant and a primary ingredient of smog. It forms when volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, and nitrogen oxides participate in chemical reactions in the presence of sunlight. Many VOCs are emitted naturally by plants. Others come from human-made sources, including products such as paints, pesticides, solvents, and processes such as fuel production and combustion.

If there are no bees, then we will have less food. In China, there was a time when growers have been forced to pollinate apples by hand. I don’t think we can totally do the work of bees in nature, that’s why we need to do something about pesticide usage and air pollution. By the way, if bees are sipping nectar contaminated by pesticides, are we not then consuming pesticide-laden honey? Oh my!


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