20.05.2019 |

On World Bee Day, UN highlights importance of bees

Be nice to bees (Photo: CC0)

Bees play an important role in agricultural production and directly contribute to food security, yet they are increasingly under threat from human activities. In order to raise awareness of the importance of bees and the threats they face, the United Nations have declared 20 May World Bee Day. 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. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a third of the world’s food production depends on bees. Not all crops need pollination: rice, wheat and potatoes, for example, would survive even without pollinators. However, many of the very nutritious, micronutrient-rich foods, like fruits, some vegetables, seeds, nuts and oils, would disappear without pollinators.

Bees and other pollinators, such as butterflies, bats and hummingbirds, are increasingly under threat from human activities. In Europe, 9% of bee and butterfly species are threatened and populations are declining for 37% of bees and 31% of butterflies. According to a new report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), between $235 billion and $577 billion in annual global crop output is at risk as a result of pollinator loss. The report lists “land use change, intensive agricultural management and pesticide use, environmental pollution, invasive alien species, pathogens and climate change”, as major threats to the abundance, diversity and health of pollinators. “Increasing crop and regional farm diversity as well as targeted habitat conservation, management or restoration, is one way of combating climate change and promoting biodiversity,” says UN Environment biodiversity specialist Marieta Sakalian.

On the occasion of World Bee Day, FAO highlights 6 ways to show our gratitude to bees, butterflies and other vital pollinators. The first recommendation is to give bees food they like by growing native plants in our gardens. Planting a diverse set of native plants which flower at different times of the year can make a huge difference for pollinators. The second point is about honey: The western honey bee is the most widespread managed pollinator in the world, and globally there are about 81 million hives producing an estimated 1.6 million tonnes of honey per year. Many local smallholder farmers and forest communities maintain sustainable beekeeping practices. FAO recommends supporting local farmers by buying raw honey, beeswax or other bee products directly from them. Another way of helping bees is by providing water for them. A single honeybee will typically visit around 7,000 flowers a day. Leaving a clean, shallow water bowl, with rocks or sticks in it so that bees don’t drown, is a good way to give the bees a resting spot and some necessary refreshment.

Another important measure to protect bees and other pollinators is to avoid pesticides, fungicides or herbicides in the garden. They can kill pollinators and poison hives with contaminated nectar or pollen brought by bees from contaminated plants. Try to find natural solutions to pests for the plants in your garden, FAO recommends. The organization also calls on farmers to create a good habitat for bees in order to ensure pollination. “Leave some areas of the farm as a natural habitat. Create hedgerows with native plants that flower at different times during the year and plant attractive crops such as sunflower and coffee, and fruit trees such avocado and mango. Reduce your use of pesticides, and leave bee-nesting sites untouched,” FAO says. Finally, the organization calls on everyone to respect bees and learn more about them to reduce fears. Bees are not generally dangerous and not all bees sting. Knowing more about them can help to avoid bad encounters and promotes peaceful coexistance. (ab)

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