In the Southern Hemisphere May is a time when we are wrapped in Autumn, bee products are harvested and our beekeepers collect the last of surplus honey as they prepare their hives for the winter months. In the Northern Hemisphere May is the month of peak pollination for many plants, with bee colonies swarming and a delightful buzz in the air. Amidst the buzziness of the month May 20 is the birthdate of Anton Janša who was born in 1734 and died just 39 years later, a man known to be the pioneer of modern beekeeping and the first teacher of modern beekeeping in the world at the first beekeeping school in Vienna.
The 20th of May is a day of keen significance, and a day in which we are all tasked with celebrating our bees and raising awareness for the critical role they play in the world. In our lives. For one day around the world, everyone will be united in bee-buzziness. A day committed to mobilising international co-operation to take the challenges surrounding our bees head on. Their health and well-being, the direct threat to food security we face – the need to eradicate hunger and malnutrition – and maintaining our rich biodiversity and ecosystems. The bottom line is that bees pollinate over 170 000 plant species and without them our diverse food supply would be less abundant and our landscapes devoid of the colours and scents of these plants in flower.
In areas of concentrated agriculture and monoculture crops, bees have become more and more threatened over the last 50 years. Why the last 50 years? Following World War II we changed our farming practices. We stopped using natural fertilizers like clover and alfalfa ground covers, which are natural nitrogen fixers and valuable as bee food in farming environments, and we started using synthetic fertilizers. We also started using herbicides to kill off the weeds in our farmlands, flowering plants that are part of the diverse flora that bees need to survive. And with this, development of larger and larger monoculture crops. These have become, as Marla Spivak coined, “agricultural food deserts” for bees. With these massive monoculture bee food deserts, the use of pesticides, which is also fungicides and herbicides, is prevalent – residues of which are found in honey bee pollen samples – and the effects of which are lethal concoctions to bee populations, which is why the European Union have ruled a total ban on all pesticides harmful to bees.
With monoculture farming has come a toxic wasteland that kills bees and natural insect pollinators. With monoculture farming has come a lack of diversity in the flora in environments where this is needed for bees to maintain healthy immune systems through diet. With challenged immune systems diseases have taken hold that much more easily. And these diseases now travel long distances with our global economy. Globally our bees are not developing healthy colonies, and bee populations are certainly not increasing at the pace demanded by increasing pollination needs in agriculture. Hence the threat to food security.
The solution? Like us, bees are what they eat. A healthy starting point is creating healthy spaces of diverse flora for bees. Let’s feed them right. We need to disrupt the food deserts and develop bee food diversity on farmlands using bee-friendly wind breaks, ground covers and planting of trees for bees. Plant bee friendly food at home, encourage your communities to plant bee friendly food along walkways, park lands and other community property. Use all available land bee-effectively. Secondly, stop using harmful chemicals. It is time for a global ban, one following in the footsteps of the ruling by the European Union. Let’s reverse the negative effects of bad decisions in our past and create a positive future for our children and future generations. We need to foster sustainable farming practices that support the delicate balance of nature.
And finally, let’s celebrate a reverence for our bees. Without them our quality of life is to be drastically impacted on. Imagine for a moment your favourite natural landscape in the world, see it, smell it as the different fragrances wake up your senses, a space abundant with flora and fauna. The sounds of insects buzzing, bird calls filling the air. Now see it for a moment, grey and brown, the smell of dirt choking your nostrils. And the silence. A wasteland.
Bees are the abundance in our lives. Let’s avoid the worst legacy we can leave future generations, lets avoid a wasteland. Support World Bee Day this 20 May.
Slovenia, an amazing beekeeping nation, motivated the UN for a World Bee Day..explore a bit about this incredible community of beekeepers.