The importance of bees in the future of the ecosystem
The article has been authored by Konda Chavva, officer-in-charge, FAO Representation in India.
On World Bee Day (WBD) which was on May 20, it is important to recognise the efforts to nurture these important species critical for food and nutrition security, and continuance of ecosystem services for sustainable agriculture and horticulture. By transferring pollen from one flower to another, bees and other pollinators facilitate the production of plenty of fruits, nuts and seeds, enabling diversity and better quality of food.
The Government of India’s (GoI’s) National Beekeeping and Honey Mission (NBHM) focuses on the promotion and development of scientific beekeeping to achieve the goal of Sweet Revolution in the country as part of Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan. The National Bee Board undertakes NBHM as a 100% centrally sponsored scheme. The NBHM aims to enhance availability of inputs for promotion and production, build capacities of beekeepers, particularly women, set up Integrated Beekeeping Development Centres (IBDCs), promote digitisation, value addition, market support etc. These important steps will contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
We need to protect bees. Key findings by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) show that globally, 40% of invertebrate pollinators (particularly bees and butterflies) are threatened with extinction. According to the FAO, up to $577 billion worth of annual global food production relies on explicit contributions by bees and other pollinators. Nearly 90% of all wild flowering plants depend to some extent on pollination and about 75% of world’s food crops (including onions, pumpkins, apples, mangoes and sunflower) depend on pollination.
WBD is celebrated on May 20 annually, since 2018. This day aims to raise awareness of the public and political decision-makers on the essential role that bees and other pollinators play in keeping people and the planet healthy and the need for their conservation. Protecting bees and other pollinators would considerably mitigate problems related to the global food supply helping to address hunger in developing countries.
WBD provides an opportunity for all of us – including governments, private sector organisations and civil society to act to protect and augment pollinators and their habitats, and improve their abundance and diversity.
Bees are important for biodiversity, but biodiversity is also important for bees. When large mono-crop plantations dominate the landscape, managed with chemicals, natural biodiversity is diminished.
FAO carries out various activities to encourage pollinator-friendly practices in agricultural management. FAO is implementing the Global Environment Facility (GEF) funded Green-Ag project in collaboration with the ministry of agriculture and farmers’ welfare (MoA&FW) and the ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEF&CC). This project seeks to mainstream biodiversity conservation, climate change, and sustainable land management objectives and practices into Indian agriculture to enhance multiple Global environment benefits (GEBs) in the project landscapes in Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Odisha, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand. The project supports harmonisation between India’s agricultural and environmental sector priorities and investments so that the achievement of national and GEBs can be fully realised without compromising India’s ability to strengthen rural livelihoods and meet its food and nutrition security requirements.
One of the goals of the project is to build capacities of farmers in the project states to embrace sustainable agriculture, by adopting a range of agroecological practices. Most insecticides are deadly to bees, and indiscriminate herbicide use can substantially reduce wildflowers that they need for their sustenance. Thus, adopting sustainable agricultural practices can help in promoting biodiversity. Further, ecosystem services provided by bees can compensate for low levels of fertiliser application, thereby mitigating the negative effects of agriculture on the natural environment. Therefore, efforts to promote natural farming and integrated farming approaches should actively integrate apiculture. Promotion of apiculture alongside agriculture can be a win-win solution that reduces input costs and enhances farmers’ incomes. The project seeks to promote local livelihoods by strengthening value chains of sustainably produced products from the forests such as non-timber forest products, such as honey from bees.
A range of actions can be taken to safeguard and support pollinators. We can all do our bit for caring for our bee friends. Some actions that we can undertake are:
Choosing bee-friendly flowers, trees, herbs and shrubs in gardens. Common trees like Amaltas (Cassia fistula), Jamun (Syzygium cumini) and Kadipatta (Murraya koenigii) are very popular with pollinators.
Placing nesting boxes for bees, which can be kept in the garden.
Planting herbs in a window box: bees are extraordinarily good at smelling them out when they flower.
(The article has been authored by Konda Chavva, officer-in-charge, FAO Representation in India.)