The Importance of Saving our Bees
Our world’s food supply depends on honey bees.
We all have read about the current extinction of bees by now. The important role they play in our daily lives. It’s always the smallest things that we take for granted or a lack of knowledge overlooked. Most of the time, when we realise, it’s too late, but with our bee population we still have a chance.
Albert Einstein had quoted, “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would only have four years of life left.” Although nobody knows who had said it first, it does indicate the importance of the black-and-yellow insect.
There are 2755 bee species in sub-Saharan Africa, about a third of which occur in South Africa. Pollination mostly precedes fruit and seed production and many plants, including many crops, are insect pollinated.
The African honeybee is one of two subspecies of honeybees in South Africa – the other being the Cape honeybee (A. m. capensis), which is found in the winter rainfall area. Habitat . The African honeybee occurs in the natural veld of South Africa (except the Western Cape and some parts of the Eastern Cape) and central Africa.
Bees are a critical part of our food cycle but this disease is wiping out entire colonies and hives in key areas of South Africa. A R20-billion industry of pollination, honey, and beeswax is in danger of vanishing. Bees are more important than any other domesticated animal because they are indispensable when it comes to the security of our food.
Are bees really endangered?
Bee population has continued to be on the decline in recent years. Some species were added to the endangered list in 2017 (seven species of Hawaiian yellow-faced bees) and in 2018 (the rusty-patched bumblebee, Bombus affinis) so as to protect and revive their numbers. There have been a number of reasons for this decline. Let’s take a look at few of them.
Disappearing at an alarming rate due to the extensive use of pesticides on our crops and certain blood-sucking parasites that only reproduce in bee colonies, it is true that the extinction of bees would mean the end of humanity.
The bacteria from pesticides are ingested by larvae in bee colonies. These grow until they kill their hosts, leaving a corpse with more than 100-million infected spores. Other bees then get infected when they come to clean the hive and spread the bacterium, which can survive for half a century and the only thing that seems to exterminate it is fire.
The truth is, bees are crucial elements of our environment, and almost have never received the credit that they deserve.
How would the extinction of bees affect us?
Out of the 100 crop species that provide us with 90% of our food, 35% are pollinated by bees, birds and bats. It’s that simple. Bees are the primary initiators of reproduction among plants, as they transfer pollen from the male stamens to the female pistils.
Since 2006, the population of bees has declined considerably. Pesticides, disease, parasites, and poor weather due to global warming have played a major role in this worrying decline.
Effects of bee extinction on human life
Less production of food crops will ultimately lead to worldwide famine. Hunger and poverty will be very common. Fresh water will start drying up and there will be less trees for water retention to occur. With less water and diminishing food, humans will perish from thirst and starvation. Fertility would also suffer a setback, followed by a drop in the rate of reproduction. Ultimately, we wouldn’t be able to sustain ourselves and would be forced into extinction within a few hundred years.
Unless scientists decide to build robotic bees to do the jobs that honeybees once did, we’re ultimately doomed. And although this isn’t the most serious repercussion, we would never again taste that sweet, savoury honey that we forcibly take from honeybees every day.
The tragic irony of this is that by killing bees, we are hurting ourselves also. Our survival depends on the health of the planet and its species, and unless we begin to face this fact, we will continue to contribute to our own demise. Unless we take drastic measures to save the bees, the planet’s survival is in doubt.
Why exactly are bees endangered?
Bees are going extinct mainly because of two reasons: pesticides and parasites. Unfortunately, human greed plays a big role.
Since the end of World War 2, the use of pesticides in agriculture has increased exponentially.
This intense use of pesticides, known as neonicotinoids (a relatively new class of insecticides that affect the central nervous system of insects, resulting in paralysis and death), has had a major role in the bees’ decline. When bees are exposed to neonicotinoids, they go into a shock and forget their way home (sort of like the insect version of Alzheimer’s).
Along with pesticides, parasites known as Varrao mites (also called Varrao destructors) are also responsible for their death. The Varrao can only reproduce in a bee colony. They are blood-sucking parasites that affect adult and young bees equally. The disease inflicted by these mites can result in bees losing legs or wings, essentially killing them.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations says the bacterium has been around for a century and plagues bee colonies in much of the world. Without bees, farmers cannot fertilise their crops cheaply and in an environmentally friendly way.
This presents the South African bee industry with a dilemma. Several local beekeepers say there is a split between those who want to use antibiotics because they have to meet large orders to fertilise farms and those who are worried about the dangers of antibiotics.
Colony Collapse Disorder
Beekeepers started reporting a sudden reduction in the number of bees. The adult bees disappeared suddenly and mostly together. The hives were left with just the queen and immature bees. Even the food was present in high quantities. In some cases, few adult bees were found attending to the queen. Reasons mentioned above are two of the many factors that play a role in this disorder.
Effects of bee extinction
Extinction of bees will affect plants, animals, availability of fuels, topography, clothing and of course, human life.
Effects on plants
Some plants are pollinated by wind, but that rate is very slow. Insects are the primary pollinators on the planet. Beetles and butterflies also pollinate, but bees are the most efficient insects for this purpose. Without bees, we wouldn’t be able to savour delicious apples, cherries, and many other fruits and veggies (blueberries, avocado, broccoli, most leafy greens, cucumbers, pumpkins, and many more). Almond trees would be among the first casualties.
If bees went extinct, there would be a massive decline in the production of crops. Although crops like rice and wheat don’t require insect pollination, can people survive by eating rice and bread all their life?
Effects on animals
Herbivores, who depend on certain plant species, will be affected first. They would go extinct if plants ceased to exist. For example, many cattle used for milk and meat depend on alfalfa and lupins, both of which depend on insect pollination. If the cow’s food supply declines, then meat and milk production will decrease. This will seriously affect the human diet.
Due to the declining population of herbivores, tertiary carnivores will begin to suffer immediately. The only beneficiaries from this scenario would be scavengers (eagles, vultures, ravens etc.)
Canola, which is grown to use as both a fuel and cooking oil, depends highly on pollination. It is also used to produce biofuel. If we were to run out of biofuel, we’d have to rely on fossil fuels completely, thus putting further pressure on the environment.
Cotton is very reliant on pollination. The disappearance of bees will lead to a huge setback in cotton production, as it will significantly reduce our choices in clothes (good luck enduring the humidity of the tropical regions while wearing nylon attire).
Since most plants would be unable to grow, grasslands would become barren and large-scale desertification will take place. Landslides would wipe out villages in one sweep. Ultimately, Earth will become one large plastic-laden desert.
Next time you have your honey; next time you see the farmer and next time you purchase food stuffs from your preferred store, ask yourself: Do the suppliers and the growers of my food responsibly support the plight for bees conservation, or are they in utter denial of what could become one of the world’s largest dilemnas?
Honey bees provide a tremendous ecological service in pollinating a variety of food crops. Additionally, conservation practices not only help improve honey bee health, but they also help improve the quality of water, soil and wildlife habitat.
5 Practical Tips to Help Save the Bees
- Rethink the manicured lawn
Dandelions and clover could not be any easier to grow–all you have to do is nothing.
Let dandelions, clover, and other bee-friendly plants grow in your garden and yard.
- Community gardens
The benefits of a community garden go way beyond helping to Save the Bee. They help improve air and soil quality, increase plant and animal biodiversity, and when you plant fruit, vegetable and grain crops, you will have a source of fresh food that does not need to be “trucked in” to your community.
- Keep away from toxic chemicals
Bees do not stand a chance against toxic chemicals designed to kill weeds and pests.
You can actually see the effects of spraying toxic chemicals on a bee or a beehive–the bees die.
What you don’t see right away are the effects on you, your family and your pets. Weed killers and pesticides are marketed as being safe as long as you follow the instructions and allow the chemicals to dry before permitting children or pets to enter the area where the chemical has been applied. But, there is plenty of evidence that these chemicals are not safe for any living things, and some have been linked to certain cancers. Organic weed and pest control is a safer and healthier choice for you, your family and the bees.
- No-kill bee removal solution
When bees nest inside your home you might be inclined to grab a can of pesticide and get them out. Or, you might call an exterminator who will use toxic chemicals and wipe out the entire colony. Consider instead a bee-friendly option that will save the bee–humane bee removal. Many pest removal services are educated about the plight of the honey bee and now offer humane bee removal. They’ll save the bee without using toxic chemicals and they’ll remove the honeycomb, which if left intact, will create a mess and attract other animals and insects. Contact your local beekeeping association or search online for “humane bee removal” or “live bee removal” to find a local service.
- Find out where your honey comes from
CCorn-based sweeteners are spectacularly energy intensive in growth and production, and cause a plethora of ethical problems.
Honey is a great alternative but cheap, highly processed honey is very likely to be manufactured by companies that are not concerned about the treatment of their bees and the quality of the honey. The honey you can get from small local beekeepers is typically raw honey in its sweet, pure, most natural state. It’s unfiltered, minimally processed and contains protein-packed bee pollen and enzymes.
A plan to rescue South Africa’s bees
A research paper by Dr Annalie Melin, who is a postdoctoral research fellow at the interdepartmental Centre for Statistics in Ecology, Environment and Conservation (SEEC) at the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Faculty of Science, finds several threats to the environment, including climate change, disease and habitat destruction, that have placed the global bee species under threat, making them especially vulnerable to extinction. Read more here: https://www.sanbi.org/cape/a-plan-to-rescue-south-africas-bees
AUTHOR: Darius Du Plessis