It's the First World Bee Day

United Nations
World Bee Day
20 May

The value of bees

Bees and other pollinators, such as butterflies, bats and hummingbirds, are increasingly under threat from human activities.

Pollinators allow many plants, including many food crops, to reproduce. Not only do pollinators contribute directly to food security, but they are key to conserving biodiversity - a cornerstone of the Sustainable Development Goals. They also serve as sentinels for emergent environmental risks, signaling the health of local ecosystems.

Invasive insects, pesticides, land-use change and monocropping practices may reduce available nutrients and pose threats to bee colonies.

To raise awareness of the importance of pollinators, the threats they face and their contribution to sustainable development, the UN designated 20 May as World Bee Day.

Why this date?

20 May coincides with the birthday of Anton Janša, who in the 18th century pioneered modern beekeeping techniques in his native Slovenia and praised the bees for their ability to work so hard, while needing so little attention.


euronews    By Louise Miller     May 20, 2018

Sunday the 20th of May 2018 is the first World Bee day.

It was created last year by the UN General Assembly, after Slovenia initiated the idea, to focus on the essential role of bees and other pollinators in keeping the planet healthy.

Bee keepers from around the globe will work towards having the insects declared as an endangered species.

The stripy pollinators are declining every year largely due to human activity.

There are calls for modern intensive farming methods to be have more of a sustainable approach.

Threats include habitat loss, climate change, toxic pesticides and disease.

A third of the world’s food production is estimated to be dependent on the yellow and black creatures and other pollinators

Why we need bees:

- bees pollinate as many as 170,000 species of plants

- 80 percent of domestic fruit and vegetable varieties need them to ensure a good harvest

- Every third spoonful of food we eat is dependent on pollination

The brightly coloured insects don't just make honey. They're the largest pollinators in the world.

They're worth a tidy sum.

- economic worth of bees worldwide is 265 billion euros per year

- and 22 billion euros in Europe

An EU court upheld on Thursday (17 May 2018) a partial ban on three insecticides, saying that the European Commission had been right in 2013 to restrict their use to protect bees.

A German supermarket in Hannover emptied its shelves of pollinated products to show the significance if bees died out.

60 percent of the shelves remained empty.

Bees Can Help Boost Food Security of 2 Billion Small Farmers at No Cost, UN

United Nations News Central     February 19, 2016

A new study suggest that poorly performing farms could significantly increase their crop yields by attracting more pollinators to their land. Photo: FAO/James Cane

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today highlighted the publication of a new study that quantifies, for the first time, how much crop yields depend on the work of bees that unknowingly fertilize plants as they move from flower to flower.

In doing so, the agency says bees may have a key role to play in improving the production of some two billion smallholder farmers worldwide and ensuring the food security and nutrition of the world’s growing population.

“What do cucumbers, mustard, almonds and alfalfa have in common?” asked FAO in apress release. “On the surface, very little; but there is one thing they share: they all owe their existence to the service of bees.”

The agency notes that for centuries, this tiny striped helper has labored the world’s fields without winning much recognition for its many contributions to food production. Wild bees, in particular, seemed doomed to slog in the shadow of their more popular cousin – the honeybee – whose day job of producing golden nectar has been far more visible and celebrated.

But FAO says bees of all stripes are finally getting their moment in the sun. The paper, published in the magazine Science, makes the case that ecological intensification – or boosting farm outputs by tapping the power of natural processes – is one of the sustainable pathways toward greater food supplies.

Food security strategies worldwide could therefore benefit from including pollination as integral component, experts say.

“Our research shows that improving pollinator density and diversity – in other words, making sure that more and more different types of bees and insects are coming to your plants – has direct impact on crop yields,” said Barbara Gemmill-Herren, one of the FAO authors of the report.

“And that’s good for the environment and for food security,” she stressed, adding that it is beneficial to actively preserve and build habitats in and around farms for bees, birds and insects to live year-round. 

Focus on developing countries

In the field study coordinated by FAO, scientists compared 344 plots across Africa, Asia and Latin America and concluded that crop yields were significantly lower in farming plots that attracted fewer bees during the main flowering season than in those plots that received more visits.

When comparing high-performing and low-performing farms of less than two hectares, the outcomes suggest that poorly performing farms could increase their yields by a median of 24 per cent by attracting more pollinators to their land.

The research also looked at larger plots and concluded that, while those fields also benefited from more pollinator visits, the impact on yields was less significant than in the smaller plots – probably because many bees have a harder time servicing large fields, far from their nesting habitat. But a diversity of bees, each with different flight capacities, can make the difference.

This suggests that bee diversity offers benefits both for small-holder farmers in developing countries, and for larger farms. 

Why it matters

The research comes at a time when wild bees are threatened by a multitude of factors and managed bee populations can’t keep up with the increasing number of plots that grow pollination-dependent crops.

Climate change poses yet another problem: “Bees will struggle with the higher temperatures," explained Nadine Azzu, Global Project Coordinator in FAO’s Plant Production and Protection Division, who also worked on the report. "Plus, flowers in some parts of the world are now opening at different times than they used to, and the bees are not there to pollinate," she said.

This means finding ways to keep pollinators buzzing around the farm year-round is becoming even more important. 

Previously unstudied

Pollinators – such as bees, birds and various types of insects that fly, hop or crawl from one flower to another – have for centuries been the invisible helpers of farmers worldwide.

Different types of bees have distinct tastes and roles to play in the food system. Bumble bees, for example, are one of the few types of bees that can successfully pollinate tomatoes, which heavily rely on buzz pollination to bear fruit.

Honey bees, in turn, are important because they are the least picky in their choice of flowers- and there are many of them, in each hive, even though their more discerning wild bee cousins are more effective in fertilizing the plants they’re attracted to.

The study shows that for smallholdings, crop yield increased linearly with increased visits to the flowers that were being tracked. Pollination was the agricultural input that contributed the greatest to yields, beyond other management practices.

This holds promise for one of the major agricultural challenges of our time: How to help smallholders produce more without hurting the environment. 

How to attract bees

The report also found that attracting pollinators to farms is not as easy as planting for the season and waiting for them to arrive.

Maintaining habitat and forage resources all year long is key to wooing pollinators and keeping them on the land for longer periods of time. This can be done by planting different trees and plants that flower at different times in the year, for example.

Maintaining flowering hedge rows around the farm, and mulch on the ground that bees can hide under, are additional recommended tactics to attract them, as is reducing the use of pesticides.

The key to getting the best yields probably lies in a mix of managed pollination services – that is, installing bee hives in plots at flowering time – and wild pollination, experts say.

And the latter will require farmers and policy makers to take a closer look at the ecosystems that surround farms.

“The take away from our study is that bees provide a real service and should be taken into account when we plan food security interventions,” said Ms. Azzu. “And the best part is: their service is free.”

News Tracker: past stories on this issue

Humans must change behaviour to save bees, vital for food production – UN report

Environmental Campaign Urges People to be Thankful for Pollinators this Thanksgiving

KPLU-88.5    By Bellamy Pailthorp  November 24, 2015 

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Imagine what your Thanksgiving table would look like without any food that is pollinated by bees.  

It’s a challenge issued by the group Environment Washington, which is highlighting the issue with a campaign called “No Bees, No Food.”

Canvassers for the group say if bees die off, then turkey, rolls and potatoes are all  that would be left on the table. Dairy products would be endangered. And you can forget about vegetables or traditional pies.

They’re concerned about the severe loss of bee populations in recent years and say pesticides called neonicotinoids are at least partly responsible. They want the federal government to do what Northwest cities including Seattle, Spokane and Portland have done: institute bans to prevent these pesticides from being used on public property .

“We’re trying to take that success here and use Seattle as an example for how we can ban these pesticides at the federal level,” said campaign director Grant Guiterrez, who is asking people to sign petitions and write letters about the issue, or support his group's work financially.

"The goal for our campaign is to get the EPA to review the science and ban these 'neonics' as quickly as possible.”

He recommends a moratorium, similar to what the European Union has done.

The "No Bees, No Food" campaign has the backing of Seattle star chef Ethan Stowell, who helped launch it at one of his restaurants. It’s a coordinated effort with food service owners in cities all over the country including Boston, Minneapolis and Denver.

Some farmers say they need the insecticides to protect their crops from dangerous pests. They say addressing clear root causes such as habitat loss for bees is more important.

Environment Washington says taking a break from the use of certain widely-used pesticides encourages the development of alternative methods for pest management.  

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