It’s World Bee Day! For a moment think about how the world would be without bees, say if they suddenly became extinct. To most people, bees are only associated with bee stings, honey, and wax Bees sting us when we get too close for their comfort, and bees are wonderful because they give us honey- the much coveted substance that has multitudinous uses. Candle makers and other industrialists hanker after wax, which they use to make products that earn them a profit. While all these benefits serve as good reminders of how important bees are, let us not forget the greatest value that bees provide to the world- pollination of crops!
Bees are the most important pollinators in the world, with one third of the food that we eat and 80-85% of all flowering plants being fertilized by the help of bees. Generally, pollinators have an estimated global economic value of about $ 150 billion (Ksh.15 trillion), and they contribute significantly to Africa’s economy. A world without bees would be a world without apples, avocados, cherries, papaya, hot pepper chilies, chocolate bar, coffee, pears, pumpkins, and watermelon. Having such immeasurable benefits to our food systems make bees essential to our existence.
Over the past couple of years, bees and other pollinators have sadly continued to decline all over the world. Pollinator decline can be mostly attributed to agricultural systems through pesticide exposure, loss of habitat and loss of diversity. The encroachment of forests to graze livestock, harvest timber or create farms destroys the natural habitats of many organisms beneficial to mankind, among them pollinators like the wild bees.
Pollution is another reason for the bee decline worldwide. According to research studies, pollution minimizes the ability of bees to forage properly. Bees depend on floral scents in order to locate and pollinate flowers, and pollution alters these scents, forcing bees to travel longer distances to find nectar. In the words of Mark Brown, professor of evolutionary ecology at Royal Holloway, University of London, “In a world with less air pollution, bees can make shorter and more profitable ‘shopping trips’, and this may help them rear more young.
Some of the pesticides commonly used in agriculture affect bees by altering their ability to forage or by killing them. A good example is neonicotinoids, a commonly used category of insecticides that causes disorientation and fertility reduction and weakens the immune system of pollinators. For this reason, many developed countries are banning or restricting its use in agriculture. Unfortunately, the Kenyan government has not supported this initiative to protect bees yet. As at now, neonicotinoids are regularly used on various vegetables and cash crops in Kenya, and most farmers are not aware to avoid applying them at times when the bees are out and foraging.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been beneficial to numerous animal species that were under threat due to human activity. Bees are in this category of direct beneficiaries of the pandemic. Due to lesser use of vehicles and closure of various industries that have been contributing to pollution, bees can now detect flower scents more accurately and make food faster than before.
Investing in urban gardening and organic agriculture is a sure way of taking good care of bees. The simple act of planting flowers and food on the balcony does not only improve the aesthetic value of your home, it also provides a good source of nectar for bees. Did you know that there are more bees in the city of Berlin than in the surrounding agricultural areas? This is just because so many people grow their own food and flowers, regardless how small the space is. Urban gardens provide safe havens for bees, as compared to farms laced with toxic chemicals which kill bees.
Lastly, there needs to be a bigger, bolder conversation on how we can move away from dependence on farm chemicals that are harmful to insects to more organic practices. The government should promote and support organic farming practices in both the rural and urban settings, which will actually help nature heal, and make the country a bee-friendly nation. As a matter of fact, it would all be easier if we took it upon ourselves to get rid of farming practices that harm the precious bees, and adopt organic methods, since by so doing, we shall be sure of abundance of food to all of us, and a secure future for posterity.