Saturday, February 5, 2011

Why bees are so important

All over the world honey bees are working as hard as they can, yet they cannot keep up with all the crops that need pollinating in order to meet our ever-growing demand for food. The call for fruit, vegetables and nuts continues to increase, but there aren’t enough bees to pollinate all the crops. As a result, global food production is in danger, says the Dutch Rabobank.

It seems a bit strange that a Dutch bank should be concerned about honey bees. Director of the Rabobank Dirk Duijzer explains that his company always takes a keen interest in issues concerning food production. The bank, which started off as a bank for farmers, is seriously worried about the shortage of bees and the consequences for the agricultural and food sectors. The bank has joined forces with scientists, businesses and the government in an attempt to change the tide. Dirk Duijzer:
“This means that we always investigate important matters which occur. This may be a shortage of water, or the increase of the world population from six to nine billion. We have also examined a new issue: the numbers of bee populations worldwide. This is connected with problems large almond growers we met in California were experiencing. For years, they had been facing low pollination results.”

Luxury foods

Bee populations are in decline because they are affected by a varroa mite. This mite weakens a bee colony, which eventually dies. The insects that do survive have to work extra hard because people want to eat more and more luxury products, not only in the West, but also in developing economies.
As the demand for coffee, nuts and fruit grows, so does the size of the plantations. According to honey bee expert Tjeerd Blacquiere from the University of Wageningen, that’s the problem. The plantations are becoming so large that the bees can’t reach all the flowers in the area. Take large-scale coffee plantations.
“For the pollination of coffee there need to be different kind of pollinators. So it's not only whether there are enough of them to visit the flowers that matters. The result is better when one type of bee visits the crop first and then another type. This improves pollination. This can only happen if there are enough little corners of forest left around the plantation where the insects can hide and find enough additional flowers. They need this to live.”


Mr Blacquiere thinks in the future agriculture should be organised on a smaller scale. Things went completely wrong in Brazil:
“Lots of melons are grown in Brazil, watermelons too. Pollination used to take place all by itself, but plantations have become so large that it’s become a problem. Pollination along the edges of the fields is fine, but in the middle of the fields in particular, it just doesn’t take place. Pollinators do not usually fly very far. The creatures just don’t have a large range, so large-scale pollination is not possible.”
And there is another problem with large plantations. Relatively more plant protection products (PPPs) are used. Sometimes they are harmful to bees. Take the cultivation of green beans in Kenya, where beans are grown for the European market.
“Well, in the cultivation of beans, they have to look good, that's what we are used to, and that means plant protection products are used. Plant protection products are tested worldwide with European honey bees in mind. We do not even know whether the tests mean PPPs are safe for the bees in Kenya. They may be much more sensitive, but they could be less sensitive, we just don’t know."

Middle East

According to Tjeerd Blacquiere, too little attention is being paid to the problem. He thinks much more research is needed to find the cause and possible solutions to secure food production in the future.
.Meanwhile the Rabobank wants to continue to play a role. Especially, now that food shortages are leading to riots, as we have seen recently in the Middle East

Day Opening - February 5

Lindos, Rhodos, Greece