Bees are often cited as an example of a service provided by nature. They pollinate our crops for free. This tiny insect supports farmers, food manufacturers, supermarkets, cafes, food transport companies – even
the banks that invest in food and agriculture.
Honey bees pollinate a third of agricultural crops eaten by humans, including fruit and vegetables, oilseed crops, nuts and spices. Their effort is estimated to contribute €153 billion a year to agriculture, which is equal to 9.5 per cent of the total value of world agricultural food production. This estimate excludes the production of crops for livestock consumption, biofuels, ornamental flowers and the value of pollination of wild plants, and is therefore a conservative estimate.
Bee colonies are at risk due to a new affliction called ‘colony collapse disorder’. In the United States, honeybee populations have been reduced by about a third. Researchers have yet to conclude what causes colony collapse disorder but suspect – and are investigating – diseases and parasites, climate change, habitat loss and wider industrial agricultural practices, including the effects of monoculture and pesticides.
If bee colonies are greatly depleted or lost, pollination would need to occur by some other method. Apple and pear crops grown in south-western China, for instance, have been hand-pollinated since the 1980s, when regional bees were lost from pesticide use. Each spring, farmers hand-pollinate their trees with pots of pollen and paintbrushes.
1 Nicola Gallai, Jean-Michel Salles, Josef Settele, Bernard E. Vaissière. Economic valuation of the vulnerability of world agriculture confronted with pollinator decline. Ecological Economics Vol 68, Issue 3, 2009
2 United States Department of Agricultre. http://www.ars.usda.gov/news/docs.htm?docid=15572
3 Rosie Boycott. The crucial role cities can play in protecting the honeybee. theguardian.com, Friday 17 December 2010