When asked to think about bees, some people are indifferent, but most are quite terrified of them. Many people suffer from a fear of being stung maybe because of an incident as a child, or because they might have watched the film Candyman one too many times.
It can be said with conviction that bees are not the most welcome members of our global community. However, they might just be one of the most important.
Bees provide a service that is essential for life. Without them, we could not survive. Our food sources would be depleted, animal species would be wiped from the planet, we might even be at risk our own extinction.
This is because bees are pollinators. When they land on a flower, they pick up pollen on their feet and while flying to other plants, the pollen falls off into the female parts of the flower which results in fertilization and the production of seeds. The seeds grow into fruits, vegetables and other plants that we eat or use in production.
It is estimated that about 1 of every 3 bites of food we eat are thanks to bees. About 75% of all crop species require pollination by animals and most often, this is performed by bees. In the US, honey bees are responsible for $30 billion worth of crops. So imagine if bees were to disappear?
Well, unfortunately, this has already started to happen. It is a global trauma rocking agriculture all over the world. Bees seem to be dying off at an alarming rate. Often entire colonies die instantaneously in a phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder, which currently has wiped out approximately 10 million beehives in the US.
The area most hit by this rising death rate is in China, especially in the apple and pear orchards of the south western part of the country. Wild bees have almost been wiped out because of an overuse of pesticides, fungicides and a lack of natural habitat. This has meant fewer bees to complete the job of pollinating the plants. This results in a very low crop yield.
China has in fact seen farmers turning to hand-pollination. It is very common to see workers walking around from tree to tree with a paintbrush of pollen and individually pollinating every flower. This is a highly labor intensive task and there are simply not enough humans on earth to pollinate all our crops by hand.
So what is the solution? Local urban communities of bee farmers have started to arise, providing safe homes for bees to live and breed. But this only part of the solution. If we don’t stop using harmful chemicals in agriculture, we might see bees become an extinct species – and this is not a world I want to be a part of.