Save the bees for a sustainable development

Save the bees for a sustainable development

July 19, 2019

Save the bees for a sustainable development

Bees and other pollinating insects are indispensable for guaranteeing biodiversity and achieving Sustainable Development Goals. But they seriously risk extinction.

Three out of four kinds of crops that produce fruit and seeds for human consumption depend at least in part on bees and other pollinators. In the tropical forests of Central America, this proportion rises sharply, as pollinators, particularly insects, are responsible for the pollination of 95 percent of trees with foliage.

Most plant species with flowers are specialised in receiving pollinators. And that’s not the only point. A well-managed and healthy pollinator community guarantees better fruit yields, improved by up to 24 percent. In themselves, these statistics are sufficient to underline the enormous importance of bees and pollinators for the health of the planet, which also depends on the maintenance of biodiversity and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals indicated by the United Nations. 


World Bee Day

In 2017, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously proclaimed May 20 as the official date promoting the global importance of bees, Sustainable Development Goals celebrated for the first time in 2018. There is a reason for this choice of date:on 20 May 1734 in Slovenia, Anton Janša, the pioneer of modern beekeeping was born. (In 1773, he died of typhus). "Celebrating World Bee Day every year will help focus attention on the essential role that bees and other pollinators play in maintaining the health of people and of the planet", the FAO explains. “It also offers an opportunity for governments, organizations and interested citizens to promote initiatives to protect and boost pollinator populations and their habitats, and to improve their abundance and biodiversity," adds the FAO. We mustn’t forget that there are at least 20,000 species of wild bees (although only a dozen produce honey), and that many other animals are active in pollination: numerous insects (wasps, flies, butterflies), and many birds and mammals, including bats and certain squirrel species... and also rodents. 

Bees as guardians of sustainable development

Although it may seem unlikely at first sight, bees play a major role in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Pollinators are essential to feed a growing world population in a sustainable way (Objective 2) and to maintain biodiversity and an active and productive ecosystem (Objective 15). Bees and pollinators help to create environments with greater resilience... and also to create new jobs, especially for small farm owners, helping to meet their growing demand for nutritious, healthy and safe foods (Objectives 1 and 9). 

The reduction of pollinator populations, and its possible repercussions, can also lead to an increase in the levels of malnutrition and non-communicable diseases, worsening human health problems worldwide (Objectives 3 and 13). Last but not least, remember the already mentioned increase in agricultural yields which pollinators can ensure (Objective 8).

Bee survival: the danger is just around the corner

Until recently, the work of bees and other pollinators was carried out directly by nature and – at least apparently – at no cost. Today the situation has changed radically, and in many areas of the world there is an alarming trend towards a decrease in the services offered by these allies of our Planet

The diversity of pollinators is at risk, so much so that 40 percent of the species of invertebrate pollinators – in particular bees and butterflies – now run the risk of extinction. This risk is fairly minor, but by no means negligible, and the same is true for vertebrate pollinators: globally 16.5 percent of them are threatened. Underlying this situation are the profound changes in agricultural and food production systems, which have modified the structure and use of land. These have transformed agricultural practices by making them intensive, focusing on monocultures and the use of pesticides that have ended up causing the fragmentation and degradation of pollinator habitats. This has led to a reduction in the resistance of bee colonies, also threatened by the effects of climate changes that have brought with them high temperatures, droughts, floods and extreme weather conditions. 

One problem, many solutions

Scientists have no doubts whatever on the importance of bees and other pollinators. However, as stated in a recent report published by the FAO, the distance between current science and current knowledge and everyday practice is still far too great. The role of "services" present in ecosystems, including pollination, is widely recognized in policy documents and scientific literature, but clear and specific guidelines on how to support them through concrete measures are lacking. To achieve this final goal, joint and supranational initiatives are needed, some of which, at least in part, have already been activated. For example, through the 2018-2030 action plan of the International Pollinators Initiative, and FAO together Convention on Biological Diversity Secretariat with the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) with other partners, there is a drive to globally promote coordinated actions to protect and manage pollinators and to promote awareness of their assiduous and tireless work, invaluable for the health of agriculture and ecosystems. 

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