Let them “Bee”!
Author: Shikhita Gupta and Aritra Bhowmik
Today, 20 May is observed as World Bee Day to celebrate Bees, one of the hardest-working creatures on the planet. These small creatures have benefited people, plants, and the environment. World Bee Day raises awareness about the essential role of bees in keeping people and the planet healthy, and on the many challenges, they face today.
Image source: Weebly
All of us love honey and we know that it comes from Bees! But the story is not that simple and does not end there. Do you know that 1 of every 3 bites of food eaten around the world depends on pollinators, especially bees, for a successful harvest? Bees and insects are the primary consumers of our food chain, what will happen if we remove the primary consumer? The entire ecological pyramid will collapse and that includes us humans, the tertiary consumers. Now Imagine, if some of us survive the crash. Well not for long!
The reasons are two; 1) without the decomposers (bacteria, fungi, etc), the soil will not have enough organic matters to provide nutrients for the plants to thrive, and 2) some plants will not be able to reproduce that will gradually lead to the decline of plant population.
So what does a bee do to keep us alive? Why should we let them keep “buzzing”?
Bees are responsible for pollinating almost 20% of all flowering plant species worldwide and close to 400 different agricultural plants that we use as food sources. During pollination, the pollen grains are transferred from the male part of a plant to a female part of a plant to enable fertilization and the production of seeds.
Some flowers have both stamen and pistil and can self-reproduce. And in rest either stamen or pistil is present. These flowers are dependent on pollinators for reproduction. Bees travel to collect nectar and pollen for their hive. While imbibing on a particularly inviting flower, the bee’s feet inadvertently collect bits of pollen sacs from anther, and then the bee moves on to a new flower with pollen grains clung to its feet like little boots. While collecting the nectar, the bee deposits the pollen sac on that flower’s stigma. And then– germination occurs. In one day, a bee may repeat this process several thousand times, creating new fruit or seeds. Bees are thus called pollinators. They play a critical role in increasing food security and improving nutrition through pollination, providing livelihood through honey production for various forest and tribal communities.
But the sad reality of today is- Bee population is declining! What is more alarming is that we do not have proper data that will say how much it is declining. 46% of different species of bees (especially Bumblebees, honey bees, and wild bees) are declining over the past decade. Also, a recent study, by the Centre for Pollination Studies (2017, Kolkata) — one of the only such studies to be carried out in India — found an 80% decline in the bee population in Odisha, India.
The primary reasons are a) Intensive Agriculture b) Monocropping (growing a single crop year after year on the same land) c) Use of harmful chemicals (pesticides and insecticides) and d) climate change. There is a need to feed 7 billion people of the world and it is expected to grow higher with time. Presently, around 50% of habitable land is used for agriculture, which has taken away the homes and bees' natural habitat. The shift from traditional and low-input farming style to intensive, industrial-scale production has caused this decline in the bee population. Neonicotinoids, a compound present in pesticides and insecticides, harms bees’ memory, and their ability to navigate their hives and gather food also leads to immune suppression, which exposes the bees to infections and diseases . Finally, the current warming trend is considered as one of the main drivers of wild bee declines as bees of tropical regions have more narrow thermal thresholds and are particularly susceptible to rise in temperatures.
This year on World Bee Day, we are in an exceptional moment in history, where many countries continue to deal with the widespread effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. On the occasion of the fourth observance of this International Day, AIC-Sangam invited Amit Godse, the Bee Man of Pune, and the Founder of Bee Basket to highlight some of the initiatives for conserving bees. After all, he is the Man with a Plan! Bee Basket is part of the first cohort of the Land Accelerator.
We wanted to know how his journey started and was it something that started from a young age. He recalled how the year 2013 changed everything for him when he watched a beehive being burnt by the pest control company at the housing society he lived in. For him, it was a messy and sad situation the one he could not forget. That’s when he decided to do something about it and joined the Central Bee Institute to learn more techniques and traveled across India. In Pune, he started saving Bees by Rescuing, Relocating, and Breeding them.
When asked whether the companies that are currently selling honey in the market should sustainably focus on harvesting honey? He answered by highlighting the report released by CSE (Centre for Science and Environment) in December 2020 which suggested that the major sellers of honey in our country are selling adulterated honey. He adds, “There is a huge gap between demand and supply. People want cheaper honey but the reality is that pure honey is expensive. Also in our country, honey extraction is done using destructive practices. The tribals usually burn the beehive and the beekeepers often use chemicals. So yes, the companies should focus on selling unadulterated and sustainably harvested honey by overcoming all the challenges.” He also suggests that there should be a tag on honey products in our country that certifies that: No Bees were harmed. He and his team are currently working with the Government to get honey certified as Non-Violent Sustainable Honey.
When asked about his experience working with the tribal communities, he says, “Even though the tribal communities are willing to learn and are experienced but they don’t know how to market the honey products. So, it becomes difficult when they don’t have economic sustenance, they either cut trees to sell wood or engage in destructive honey-collecting practices. We provide the training and are helping them to market their honey.”
Image Source: Sangam Team
For the past several years, his quest for Indigenous Bee conservation has led him to Sundarbans, he says, “I would like to give three reasons why I chose Sundarbans, first reason because it is the biggest mangrove forest and the world’s largest tidal delta. It has a rich biodiversity. The second reason as people are migrating due to economic and employment issues. Also, the farmers and the honey gatherers are constantly under threat from Tiger and crocodile attacks. The local honey gatherers who are called ‘Mouwali’ are at constant risk of falling from the trees and getting killed by the piercing shoots of the mangrove trees. They worship BanDevi/BanBibi, a unique deity who brings together Hindus and Muslims residing in Bengal’s Sundarbans, to keep them safe each time they go out to collect honey. So overall honey hunting is a risky business in Sundarbans. The third reason, I wanted to do something for Sundarbans and the honey that we collect from Sundarbans is unique, it is produced by all the indigenous bees, and is organic we have also applied for a GI tag and this is going to be the first time in India that there will be a GI tag for honey.” He is currently working to get the GI tag for honey from this region as it will add value to honey and the honey gatherers in Sundarbans will get a good rate for it.
The FPO initiated by him in Sundarbans has 800 members. And the unique thing about this, he says, “it is the first family like this in our country because it is the first FPO dedicated in India to work on the wild species of honeybees to get honey.” His initiatives in Sundarbans are also likely to help the tribal communities maintain their livelihood and will help them overcome the financial impacts of climate change, also harvesting honey sustainably does not interfere with the pollination of the indigenous plants due to which the ecosystem of Sundarbans will thrive and there will be fewer damages because of a flood and the farmers will get good quality seeds from bee-pollination.
He adds, “We are also working with the tribal farmers not just from Sundarbans but also from the Himashankar region of Maharashtra as well, so we have 52 tribal people who are harvesting honey with us from the Himashankar region, we also have 1250 beekeepers that are working with us and when it comes to making an impact in the income of all these farmers so we are targeting and we have seen 1.5 times increase in farmer’s income harvesting honey with us and for Sundarbans, we are now aiming for 3.5 times increase in the income that will happen once we get the certification and GI tags.”
When asked about the importance of Indigenous Bee species, he adds, “the indigenous bees are more immune to the diseases, they have adaptation to fight and escape the natural predators like the green beetles, unlike the non-indigenous bees. Also, when we promote indigenous bees then it also helps in promoting indigenous plant species because the indigenous bees are not selective and they go to a wide variety of indigenous plants which get pollinated by these bees. The quality of honey is also good. When it comes to honey there is an inverse proportionality between the quality and the quantity of honey so even though the indigenous bees provide us with less quantity of honey the, quality of honey is very high.”
Image Source: Sangam Team
He also suggests that urban settlers grow bee-friendly plants on their balconies or terrace, as the farmers are using too much pesticide in their crops, and because of deforestation, the indigenous bee species like Apis dorsata are migrating to cities to make beehives and gather honey and nectar. He is also trying to create young beekeepers by training them, currently, he is training 9 to 10 kids in the age group of 6 to 12 years. He feels that the social media outreach and the awareness campaigns are helping them to bring in the shift in attitude among the masses regarding honey bees.
Since 2016, Bee Basket has faced many challenges but has still managed to rescue 7000 beehives and, on average, these beehives had one lakh bees in each hive. So, if you do the math, you will realize that it’s true that Amit loves bees but bees love him too. Now it’s your time to “Bee” Friendly!
You start by shifting towards:
Regenerative agriculture processes
Encouraging biodiversity by planting more flowers, shrubs, and trees that provide nectar and pollen as food for bees
Supporting local bee-keepers and producer groups engaged in the traditional way of bee-keeping promoting local species assuring fair price and post-harvest processing to drive wealth in apiculture
Creating awareness in rural and urban communities about the importance of bees
Keeping your fight active against climate change through land restoration, reforestation, preservation, and conservation of local ecosystems to provide a thriving natural habitat for the bees.
Have a Bee-beautiful Day!
2. No Honeybees, No Food https://www.fix.com/blog/how-bees-impact-our-food/
4. Plummeting insect numbers ‘threaten collapse of nature’ https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/10/plummeting-insect-numbers-threaten-collapse-of-nature
6. No Honeybees, No Food https://www.fix.com/blog/how-bees-impact-our-food/