Opinion and Editorial

To bee or not to bee: Saviours not stingers

Bikram Vohra
Filed on November 26, 2019 | Last updated on November 26, 2019 at 07.16 pm

The rich throw it away and the poor sleep on an empty stomach. These are the standard bookends of the food story.

Some years ago, I did a fair amount of work for the UN agency, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), in Rome and attended several conferences there. One came across some rather interesting insights into the production of food and it violently underscored how most of us have absolutely no clue how food comes from crop to kitchen to table and onto our plates. It just happens, right.

The rich throw it away and the poor sleep on an empty stomach. These are the standard bookends of the food story. Not really our business what the saga entails. On one of these trips the issue of bees did come up and one of the professors there solemnly suggested that if we don't care about bees there will be a global famine. That is a given. Bees will kill us by being decimated.

To us folks uninitiated in bee-speak there are spelling bees, bees in the bonnet, bees buzzing at picnics and making honey. There is also the famous saying: the bumble bee cannot fly. The size of its wings and the shape of its body make flying impossible. But the bumble bee does not know that.it flies and it makes a little honey, too. 

And it is not just honey. Bees are the single largest and most important life form in keeping us from dying of hunger. Honey bees and other pollinators help to produce about $270 billion in crops. "Honey bees are one of the most important agricultural commodities," says Geoff Williams, an assistant professor of entomology at Auburn University, who also serves on the board of directors of the Bee Informed Partnership.

Bees are necessary to human survival. You have to be kidding. Indeed, and the scary part is that there has been up to a 40 per cent loss in the bee population in the past year alone, a fall that began 15 years ago and no one truly cared. Bees were not on the national agenda. They were just a troublesome buzz at a picnic, not vital to our lives.so we believed and we still do. The bees are being eradicated by climate change, by urbanisation, by pesticides, by pollution, by a systematic collapse of their colony system often caused by the invasion of homo sapiens.

On August 15 this year, also known as World Honey Bee day, the UN put out a red alert. It said most categorically that the global decline in bee populations poses a serious threat to a wide variety of plants critical to human well-being and livelihoods, and countries should do more to safeguard our key allies in the fight against hunger and malnutrition. Bluntly put, every third bite of food which goes into the human mouth is thanks to bees. Almost half the 5,000-odd global species of bees are under threat.

If this trend continues, nutritious crops such as fruits, nuts, mangoes, chocolate, berries, squashes, and many vegetables will be substituted increasingly by staple crops like rice, corn, and potatoes, eventually resulting in an imbalanced diet.

The absence of bees and other pollinators would wipe out coffee, apples, almonds, tomatoes, and cocoa to name just a few of the crops that rely on pollination. Countries need to shift to more pollinator-friendly and sustainable food policies and systems.

We can do something. Even growing flowers at home to feed bees contributes to this effort. Experts are fulsome in their praise for bees. They are seen as lifesavers. Not stingers but saviours.

Bet you didn't know bees are among the hardest working creatures on the planet providing the important ecosystem service of ensuring pollination and thus reproduction of many cultivated and wild plants, which is crucial for food production, human livelihoods and biodiversity. If the bee population is adversely affected further it will impact not only on our food output but will spike global hunger like never before. Honey will become an obsolete term of endearment and the things we love to eat will not 'bee'.



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