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World Bee Day highlights urgent need to protect pollinators

In an increasingly challenging global environment, the role of bees and other pollinators, such as butterflies, bats, and hummingbirds, cannot be overstated. These diligent workers play an invaluable role in thriving ecosystems. However, recent trends suggest that pollinators are under grave threat due to human activities.

Pollination, the largely invisible act of transferring pollen grains from the male anther of a flower to the female stigma, is a crucial process that supports the health of our ecosystems. 

It is estimated that nearly 90 percent of the world’s wild flowering plant species depend on animal pollination, either entirely or to some degree. This biological interaction further impacts the human world, affecting more than 75 percent of the world’s food crops and 35 percent of global agricultural land.

Pollinators are not only vital for our food security, but also contribute to preserving biodiversity. The diversity they promote throughout ecosystems is not just beautiful, but also essential to the natural balance of our planet. 

Recognizing the need to increase awareness of pollinators’ roles, the United Nations has designated May 20th as World Bee Day.

The initiative strives to secure measures to safeguard bees and their fellow pollinators. This effort has enormous potential to address critical issues concerning global food supply and the eradication of hunger in developing nations. In essence, our survival is intricately linked with theirs. 

The theme for World Bee Day 2023, “Bee engaged in pollinator-friendly agricultural production,” underlines the pressing need for universal action. 

Bees and other pollinators are threatened by intensive monoculture production and improper pesticide use. These factors diminish their food and nesting sites, expose them to dangerous chemicals, and undermine their immune systems.

The call to action extends to implementing and supporting pollinator-friendly agricultural production. The global ceremony for World Bee Day, hosted at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) headquarters on May 19th, will serve as a platform to emphasize the significance of adopting such strategies, contributing to the resilience, sustainability, and efficiency of agri-food systems.

However, the gravity of the situation demands immediate action. Bees, among other pollinators, are vanishing at a disturbing pace. 

The current rates of species extinction are reported to be 100 to 1,000 times higher than usual, primarily due to human impact. Close to 35 percent of invertebrate pollinators, notably bees and butterflies, and around 17 percent of vertebrate pollinators, such as bats, are on the brink of extinction.

If this alarming trend persists, our diets could soon be deficient in nutritious crops, like fruits, nuts, and vegetables. These would gradually be replaced by staple crops, including rice, corn, and potatoes, leading to an imbalanced diet. 

Factors such as intensive farming practices, land-use changes, mono-cropping, pesticides, and the increasing temperatures linked with climate change all compound the issues faced by bee populations, indirectly impacting the quality of the food we cultivate.

In response to this crisis, the Convention on Biological Diversity has prioritized the conservation and sustainable utilization of pollinators. Since the turn of the millennium, the International Pollinator Initiative (IPI) has been active, with a goal of promoting the sustainable use of pollinators in agriculture and related ecosystems. 

The IPI monitors the decline of pollinators, works to fill gaps in taxonomic information, and assesses the economic impact of the decline of pollination services.

More about pollinator decline

Pollinators are vanishing globally, which is a cause of great concern. The decline is not confined to any one specific geographic area; it’s a widespread phenomenon.

In North America and Europe, honeybee populations have notably declined. For instance, Colony Collapse Disorder has caused significant losses in honeybee populations in the United States. 

In Europe, changes in land use, agricultural practices, and climate have resulted in declining pollinator populations, with some species disappearing from certain areas entirely.

Similarly, in Asia, Africa, and South America, factors such as deforestation, intensive monoculture farming, and the excessive use of pesticides have led to habitat loss and a decrease in the populations of various pollinator species. The spread of diseases and parasites, along with climate change, further exacerbates the issue.

How you can help protect pollinators 

There are several ways that individuals, communities, and governments can help protect and encourage the health of pollinators:

Plant a pollinator garden

Grow native plants that provide nectar and pollen sources. Bees are particularly attracted to blue, purple, violet, white, and yellow flowers. Try to have blooms throughout the year to provide a consistent food source for pollinators.

Limit or avoid pesticide use

Pesticides can be harmful or deadly to pollinators. If you must use them, try to apply them at night when bees and other pollinators are less active.

Create habitat for pollinators

Many bees are solitary creatures that need a safe place to build their nests. You can help by leaving a patch of your garden wild, providing a habitat for native bees. Other pollinators, like butterflies, need specific plants or environments to breed. For example, monarch butterflies need milkweed plants to lay their eggs.

Provide water for pollinators

Just like all creatures, pollinators need water to survive. Consider adding a birdbath or shallow dish of water with rocks for them to land on.

Support local beekeepers and farmers

Buying local honey and produce helps support agriculture that is friendly to bees and other pollinators.

Advocate for pollinators

Use your voice to push for governmental policies that protect pollinators. This could be in the form of supporting policies that limit pesticide use, preserve natural habitats, or fund scientific research on pollinators.

Educate others

Raise awareness about the importance of pollinators and what others can do to help. This can be as simple as talking to friends and family, or it could involve organizing educational events in your community.

Remember, every little bit helps. By taking small steps to protect pollinators, we can collectively make a big difference.


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