Buzzed Off

September 27, 2014

Bees are the major contributors to the pollination of crops and flowers. However, most species are in decline, raising fears that the world might be facing a pollination crisis. 

The UN estimates that around 70% of crops that together supply 90% of food supplies depend on bee pollination. 

In Central Valley, California, they produce a phenomenal a mouth of fruit, seeds and flowers. Although the area is typically classed as a semi-desert due to the little rain it receives, it produces roses, oranges, grapes, asparagus, lemons and apricots. 

To produce such a harvest in a desolet area, chemicals are heavily relied upon. These leach into surrounding water streams, polluting rivers that run from the Sierra Nevada mountains. 

Farmers spray the earth with fertilisers, insectcides, herbicides and fumigants whilst diverting natural water ways. This deathly cocktail of chemicals leaves a fine mist of toxins in the air that form yellow chemical clouds over crops. It not only deteres birds and insects, but effects children in the area, which are three times as likely to suffer with asthma.

The state is also home to 60 million almond trees that stretch over 600km. Surprisingly, California produces 80% of the world's almond crop. 

Nowhere is there a pollination problem more pressing than California, where the almond industry is so in need of bees that they import them as far as Australia. 

Every year in early spring 3,000 trucks carrying 40 billion bees make their way across the United States to California's Central Valley to pollinate crops inbetween pesticide sprays. 

It is estimated that California growers spend $250 million a year on bees, with the average rent of a hive costing €160. 

In California, natures support system has broken down. A temporary fix has been found, but no one is sure how long can this be sustained.

There is ongoing debate over the cause of the decline in the bee population world wide. It may partly be attributed to non-native diseases and loss of forest cover. However, it is most commonly attributed to agricultural intensification, particularly the use of pesticides. Neonicotinoids in particular are damaging. When sprayed in the ground they are absorbed by plants, turning them 'toxic' to both insects and bees. 

Bees contribute over €22 billion annually to European agriculture. In 2013 the EU banned the use of these pesticides on crops attractive to bees (it is worth noting the UK voted against this due to lack of scientific research). 

India now produces 7.5 tonnes of vegatables a year (around 14% of the worlds total) following an agricultural revolution in the 1960s, a time where India was heavily reliant on food imports. 

Recently farmers there have been forced to hand pollinating crops using feathers and cigerette filters die to a rapid decline in the country's bee population. The Indian government is currently championing farming that uses large quantities of pesticides and chemical fertiliser, rather than rotating different crops and livestock throughout the year. This has had a devastating effect on the bee population, and therefore on crop yields that are extemly dependent on pollination. 

The UK, home to 26 species of bumble bee, has seen two species become extinct within the last seventy years. Six are listed as seriously endangered, and half the rest are considered at risk. The British beekeeper association states they fear the UK could loose every species within the next decade. 

I hope Governments, NGOs and farmers are starting to realise that we are still very much dependent on natures services, and that artificial substitutes simply aren't sustainable. 

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