Ideas & Debate

Why bees hold critical place in the ecosystem


When one talks about bees we think of sweet honey, yet the greatest rarely known contribution of bees is in pollination. The economic, social and environmental value of pollination is between 10 and 20 times the total value of honey.

Out of oblivion, we may laugh at the thought of World Bee Day. Yet knowledge reminds us that if the bee and other pollinators were eradicated from the face of the world it would not take long before humanity followed suit.

Bees, small as they are hold a record among the hardest workers among fauna. To make a kilogramme of honey, a bee must visit four million flowers and fly four times the distance around the world. More than 20,000 bee species exist worldwide and bees, therefore, also significantly contribute to global biodiversity.

The articulate and organised systems among bee colonies and daily work routine are lessons humanity has always borrowed as an example of the strength of teamwork. The aggressiveness with which these insects protect their environment when disturbed is a clear indication they value their future and the ecosystems.

Bee daily outputs satiate hungry human mouths, ensure crops reproduce and renew the face of the planet. Pollinators such as bees and other insects, wasps, birds and bats, contribute to 35 percent of the world’s total crop production, through their pollinating function in 87 of 115 leading food crops worldwide.

The price tag of global crops directly relying on pollinators is estimated to be between $235 and $577 billion a year.

Beyond food, bees and other pollinators also play an important role in the provision of medicines and indirectly contribute to the production of biofuels, fibres like cotton and linen, and construction materials. Only with a buzz they do all these good things for humanity’s comfort.

They produce precious human food and participate in cross-pollination that ensures we get quality sweet fruits, and plenty of nuts and seeds.

Bees and beekeeping systems go far beyond the production of honey and contribute to the achievement of many of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Bees not only produce food but create employment. In Kenya, about 100,000 people are directly employed in beekeeping.

The greatest beneficiary of the bee is humanity. Sadly, the greatest threat to the well-being of the bee is humanity. Through our activities that endanger the life of the bee, hence this day in which the globe pauses for a while to salute the bee.

This year’s theme — ‘Bee Engage: Celebrating the diversity of bees and beekeeping systems’ calls upon humanity to honour this great insect by adopting systems that make bees comfortable and prolong their lifespan and subsequently contribute to a better planet.

This day seeks to create awareness of the important role of all other pollinators including insects, birds bats and other animals.

To draw the attention of a busy world to the need to protect the busy bee and other pollinators, to remind them that our lives are tied to the works of the bee. These activities include overuse and use of harmful pesticides and fuels, destruction and fragmentation of natural habitats, ecosystem degradation, deforestation and removal of dead trees, climate change and spread of invasive species.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) owes the achievement of its mandate — To defeat hunger — to this insect and other pollinators.

Considering that 75 percent of the world’s crops that produce fruits and seeds for human consumption depend, at least in part, on pollinators for sustained production, yield and quality. For this reason, FAO has over the years taken lead in creating awareness of the important role played by the bee.

FAO is working with the government, organisations, civil society and local communities to take action to protect bees and other pollinators.

This has been through supporting the capacity development of technical staff and local communities on beekeeping systems, empowering local communities to take an active role in the management, use and protection of forests and natural environments which form a natural habitat for bees.

A good example is the local communities in Kirisia Forest, Mukogodo and Mount Kulal Ecosystems are using their traditional knowledge to install beehives in areas set aside for forest restoration, protecting tree seedlings from elephants and wildlife while also contributing to the income and food security of the wider community.

The wide range of beekeeping systems and practices in Kenya and across the globe is a reflection of the diversity of bees and social, cultural and environmental contexts and beekeeping provides a direct link between agricultural production systems and wild ecosystems.

Albert Einstein is often credited with saying “If bees disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live”. We shall all die if we kill the bee and, therefore, we have no option but to increase awareness and take care of this life-giving insect.

This year the world bee day celebrations in Kenya will be marked at Nyayo Gardens in Nakuru. Several stakeholders and the public will come together to showcase the benefits of the bee, to learn how to keep bees and how to collectively take care of and utilise this spectacular insect.