To Bee or Not to Bee

To Bee or Not to Bee

In our busy world, we often rush on at warp speed, ignoring many of the tiny living creatures on which we depend. Too often we take these little things for granted, seldom giving them a first thought, let alone a second one. Pity, given that these very small creatures are essential to our continued existence on this planet.

We have a plentiful choice of insecticides to blast away the little crawling and flying pests that irritate us. Like Dung beetles, which tidy up all the stuff left behind by the big foragers in the veld here in South Africa and beyond.

And then there are the bees, those little flying things that sting, but also produce delicacies like honey, which we love. Industrious bees fly in their thoroughly organised and planned way to gather nectar. They convert it into honey, which we then harvest, bottle, buy and enjoy. But bees are much more important than just being a means of production for the creation of honey for humans. They are critical pollinators of fruit and nut trees and others.

So critical are bees, in fact, that China is having to substitute bees with human pollinators because of the mysterious and devastating disease Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), which has afflicted bees in many countries and devastated their numbers to the point where many scientists are concerned about the sustainability of bee populations.

This is really bad news for humans because many of basic food sources would be threatened without the bees to provide pollination services. But it is not all bad news.

Just as some big Wall Street companies are beginning to make money out of the threat posed by changing weather conditions as a result of climate change, there are now also entrepreneurs who have discovered that you can make big money out of exporting pollination services. If you visit the California Central Valley, you will find it alive with and buzzing with busy bees doing what they do best. This is, in season, the largest gathering of honeybees in the world.

According to Fortune magazine, 80 percent of the world’s almonds are grown in this valley. Almond trees need to be pollinated to be able produce healthy almonds. The farmers in the valley have found that there are no more efficient pollinators than the European honey bee, hence the importation of thousands of hives for the pollination season. The farmers rent the hives at about R1600 per hive at the pinnacle of the season.The huge rise in the price of hive hire is in part driven by CCD, but also because of the growing business interest in the fact that they are such efficient pollinators.

This is just one example of the growing interest in the services that Nature delivers to us with such generosity year after year. It is absolutely certain that the interconnectedness of everything is only marginally understood. It is equally certain that we will continue to discover new connections between our own health and the health of the Planet.

While these fascinating discoveries continue to be made and the commercial opportunities that result from them are exploited, each one of us should think very carefully before we point and exterminate. We may just be killing an important link to our own health.

Bee image via

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