It's not only about the honey, bee


Progress Namibia - It's not only about the honey, bee
19 February 2018

Ever thought about the role of bees in the food that you eat? Bees have played their part in either pollinating the vegetables and fruits we eat directly, or pollinating the food that feeds our animals. In fact, about a third of all our food exists thanks to pollinators, of which bees are a big contributor. So. Making sure we don't kill them off, would be most important, no?

A few years ago, the chemical pesticide lobby started spending millions of dollars to try and prevent the regulation of chemicals linked to the dramatic escalation in the deaths of pollinating bees. I am sure you have heard about bee die-offs, as well as colony collapse disorder. Have you heard of neonicotinoids, the chemical cousin of nicotine?

Commonly called neononics, the most recent study, published in Science, provided the first real evidence that these (commonly used) pesticides can hurt both domesticated honey bees, as well as wild pollinating bees. Neononics are now the most widely used class of insecticides (mainly because many insects have evolved resistance to other compounds). The study also discusses the impact not only of the pesticide, but also the impact of the larger landscape. For instance, the trial in Germany did better (in terms of bee survival), with the difference being that wildflowers grow nearby the study site and as a result provide additional resources that could have made the bees more resilient.

On the other hand, a recent study (published in Nature Plants) showed that farms could significantly cut their pesticide use while still producing as much food. Many farmers do want to cut pesticide use, partly due to its effects on their own health. But costs have always been a deterring factor, the risk of crop losses. The study analysed the pesticide use, productivity and profitability of almost 1,000 farms of all types across France. By comparing similar farms using high or low levels of pesticides, the scientists found that 94% of farms would lose no production if they cut pesticides and two-fifths of these would actually produce more. The results were most startling for insecticides: lower levels would result in more production in 86% of farms and no farms at all would lose production.

We need to talk more about the life on Earth that literally keeps life on Earth going. We hope next time you see a bee you have a new associated thought: it is one of your primary care-givers!

PHOTO: Andrena hirticincta. Credit: USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab/CC BY 2.0, https://www.sciencefriday.com/segments/the-secret-smart-life-of-bees/