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Blossoming flowers and grasslands have quickly been vanishing at an alarming rate on account of unsustainable agricultural practices and infrastructural development. Large portions of landscapes are being cleared away, and bees are feeling the impact. We spoke to two beekeepers to learn more.

The hairy nature of bees’ bodies are a great aid in dispersing pollen © Zac Durant

At a time when bee populations are being depleted at alarming rates, organic agriculture is a great ally in boosting their numbers. IFOAM Apiculture Forum (IAF) does this by promoting organic and sustainable beekeeping methods, and raising awareness of how unsustainable agricultural practices pose a threat to the bees and the environment as a whole.

Bees have for centuries been nature’s busiest residents and continue to be, even with the immense threats they face from harmful human intervention. The large quantities of chemicals sprayed all over the landscape not only poison the soil and plants, but are also a danger to bees. For instance, neonicotinoids are an example of such insecticides, some of which are highly toxic to honey bees. Some of these neonicotinoids have not only affected the navigation abilities of bees but also led to their death. Although the use of the most toxic ones were banned in the European Union on plants that attract bees, they are still widely used in other parts of the world.

Organic agriculture is not only bee-friendly, but also nature-loving. For example, crop rotation ensures variety in plants that are fed on by bees and other insects, the avoidance of synthetic inputs like fertilizers ensure healthy soils, and it also helps to mitigate global warming.

But why take such measures to protect bees? What is so special about them?

The Biodiversity Influencer

Kiwis, mangos, oranges, coconuts, cashew nuts, and strawberries, are just a tiny portion of the food crops whose seed production or breeding depends on bee pollination. Without bees, we would not be able to enjoy such foods.

A word-cloud showing a few of the plants pollinated by bees

Of course, we have other pollination agents such as wind, butterflies, flies, birds like the hummingbirds. However, bees are the principal pollinators and responsible for the pollination of 80% of the world’s plants. Yes, you heard that right! 80% of over 90 leading food crops that are very critical and vital to our diet and nutrition. Without them, we would lose a lot of plant species and it might be difficult to feed the ever-growing population in the world.

These hard workers are divided into 2 main classifications: social and solitary bees and both have a total of over 20,000 species. The most well known of the social bees are the bumblebees and of course, the honeybees. They both live in large colonies however; the bumblebees mostly live in the wild in nests while the honeybees live in hives are mostly taken care of by beekeepers.

With over 20,000 species, bees come in various forms and with diverse habits!

What is it like to be a beekeeper in the city?

Cornelia Kirchner is an organic beekeeper who started her journey in 2016. She attended a beekeeping course for half a year, during which she got her first three bee hives. A year later, she harvested 50 kg from her honeybees that she shared with and sold to her family, friends, and work colleagues.

“I find beekeeping absolutely rewarding because bees are such fascinating creatures and this type of agriculture is close to nature. I do not use any antibiotics and follow the organic principles.”, she shared. “I use organically certified wax for the hives and organic sugar or the honey harvested from the hives to feed them, especially before the winter when the flowers are not blooming.”

Cornelia recently harvested 90kg of organic honey which she sells © Cornelia Kirchner

Kirchner lives in Bonn, Germany. She knows that land is always an issue when it comes to agriculture, especially in urban areas. However, she found organic beekeeping manageable if done properly, but a very busy profession too.

She has to regularly check the hives to ensure the bees are healthy and are not disturbed. “There are some nasty parasites called varroa mites that feed on honeybees. If you do not get rid of them, it can lead to the bees dying and a whole colony collapsing.”, Kirchner explained. She uses organically approved substances that can be sprayed on the bees to rid them of the mites, for example, milk acid, formic acid, or oxalic acids.

These regular checks are also important in finding out if a new queen is being created. This is a sign that the bees might swarm out in search of a new home, as this is a natural way for bees to multiply.

Since she lives in a city, a swarm of bees storming out is not a risk she is willing to take because they have lower chances of survival. To avoid this, she usually takes out half the bees and the queen and places them in a new hive.

Some of Cornelia’s bee hives  © Cornelia Kirchner

“Respect the Bee; Bees Matter!”

Kaluki Paul Mutuku is the founder of Green Treasures Farms, in Kenya. He has been involved in establishing pollinator gardens to attract insects like bees, butterflies, birds, beetles, etc, in a bid to help pollinator populations to thrive and promote biodiversity.

“For every spoonful of food you take, thank a bee and other pollinators for it. To you, it may be just a single spoon, but for the bees and others, it is a lifetime of hard work and consistency to transform those dazzling flowers into the fertile fruits and vegetables in your baskets.”, says Kaluki.

Bees, especially wild bees that are not cared for by beekeepers, are endangered. This is a huge problem because their extinction would be disastrous to both humanity and biodiversity. Sustainable agricultural practices will help to mitigate this.

Butterflies, bats, hover-flies, hummingbirds, and moths are examples of other important pollinators

Bees have been contributing to biodiversity for millions of years and together with other pollination agents, ensure an abundance and variety of food that humans and animals benefit from immensely.

“Life without bees is impossible. Respect the bee, restore the bee populations. Bees matter!”, Kaluki concluded.

We can see that organic agriculture is a great ally for bees. IFOAM Apiculture Forum (IAF) does this by promoting organic and sustainable beekeeping methods, and raising awareness of how unsustainable agricultural practices pose a threat to the bees and the environment as a whole.