Most plants rely on bees and other natural pollinators to produce some of nature’s most nutritious and beloved foods.
If you’re a beekeeper, farmer or consumer you have something to lose if bees disappear — and a significant role to play in their survival.
Twelve years ago, Dale Gibson traded his early mornings as a stockbroker, for early mornings at his urban bee farm.
On the roof of his home in Bermondsey, London, eight beehives house about 200,000 bees, along with his prize winning honey.
According to London Beekeeping Association, there were 2,259 apiaries and 3,699 colonies registered in the Greater London area in 2015. With many beekeepers choosing not to register, the association believes the number is even greater.
Though urban beekeeping is on the rise, beekeepers across the UK are finding it harder to compete in a market that demands cheap honey.
This pattern is also apparent in other parts of the world, like Vietnam. Though the country is one of Asia’s largest honey exporters, beekeepers find it harder to maintain their colonies, while making a reasonable living.
Nguyen Thi Hang is the president and CEO of the Hanoi Honeybee Joint Stock Company. In her 30 years working with bees, she says the recent decline in colonies is a great cause for concern.
“We worry about our beekeepers, because we don’t want them to give up,” she said, “In the US farmers pay beekeepers to pollinate their crops, but in Vietnam they don’t.”
Hang hopes that the government will start to invest in the welfare of bees and keepers so the industry can begin to flourish again.
In Hanyuan County, China, pear and apple trees litter the landscape in abundance, but the buzzing of bees is uncommon.
Using brushes that look like feather dusters, they deposit bits of pollen on each flower, to give their crops the best chance at sprouting fruit. Bees and other pollinators, are rare in this area due to widespread use of chemical pesticides that farmers use to spray their crops.
The demand for bees in California leads to price increases for popular crops like almonds and avocados, as they rely almost entirely on bees for pollination.
So what can you do to help bees? It can be as easy as planting herbs, wildflowers, bushes and fruit trees in your garden.
“For city dwellers, herbs are a great thing to have growing on your window sill,” Gibson says. “Rosemary, lavender, thyme, and chives are great options that require little space and provide produce for humans and bees.”
Gibson also suggests buying honey from local beekeepers instead of the industrial honey produced for most supermarkets.
“Artisan producers of raw, unblended local honey, are competing against mass-produced, commodity honey, which comes from many different places where food standards might fall far short of our own,” he said. Although it is cheaper, industrial honeys are processed to extract pollen, enzymes and aromatics, leaving a product that competes and demoralizes local beekeepers.”