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Craig and Marc Kielburger

Craig and Marc Kielburger

Posted: August 21, 2009 03:09 PM

To Bee or Not To Bee

What's Your Reaction:

If you haven't heard the buzz, you could be missing out.

Mark Winston, a professor at Simon Fraser University heard it. So did Eugenio Angles, a farmer in Alto Beni, Bolivia.

Unfortunately, the buzz seems to be dying down. That's because its source is dying out. And, the eerie silence has more than one person raising the alarm.

"Beekeepers all around the world are noticing their bees dwindle and disappear," says the professor of apiculture and social insects. "Over the last few years, they have been losing a third of their bees. That's pretty catastrophic."

It's estimated about one third of the human food supply is dependent on pollination. Hundreds of species of nuts, berries, grains and vegetables rely on bees' diligent work. Combine that with income-generating beekeeping and you've got a little creature with a massive impact on the daily lives of humans.

The vanishing bee phenomenon is labeled colony collapse disorder. Winston attributes it to a number of factors. Parasites that destroy colonies have become resistant to antibiotics we use to kill them. Plus, the pesticides we spray become so concentrated in honeycomb they can kill bees in the hive.

Then, mono-cropping starves bees of essential nutrients.

"It's like if you only ate bananas," says Winston. "They might be good for you but you're not going to be healthy."

While colony collapse disorder is witnessed worldwide, it's worst in developed countries like Canada due to greater use of pesticide and industrial farming practices. But, looking at our counterparts in the developing world, we'll find that more traditional methods of sowing fields and raising bees are both eco-friendly and bee-friendly

In the community of Alto Beni, Bolivia, rural farmers often sustain their families by growing coca. That led ACDI/VOCA, an economic development organization, to set up a number of alternative income projects that would increase licit household income.

Treating honey production was a major component.

Eugenio Angles, a farmer in the poor community, immediately signed up for the training.

"Angles was devoted to raising coca," says Glenn Blumhorst who worked as ACDI/VOCA's Bolivia country representative for 10 years. "But, at the training, he showed that he was very interested (in beekeeping). He had a lot of commitment but no knowledge."

Not only did Angles learn to extract, market and sell his honey, he adopted organic methods for keeping his colonies healthy. Plus, he diversified his crop to ensure the bees would thrive.

Now with close to 60 hives, the farmer has emerged as a leader. He even founded an association with 15 other beekeepers who took their product to a Miami trade show and further created business for their small community.

"Beekeeping can't be done by 100 percent of the farmers but there's a lot of ways to participate," says Blumhorst. "There are the carpenters who build the hives, the farmers whose crops are pollinated and the restaurants who use the honey in their cooking."

Through this kind of farming, not only does the community flourish, so do the bees.

Back in Canada, Mark Winston is reflective talking about the insect he studies.

"When I walk into an apiary, time slows down and I become focused. There's something about their complex social behaviour," he says. "They're really a wonderful metaphor for human societies."

Sadly, the metaphor seems to be lost on us. Instead, our farming practices in Canada and the U.S. prioritize yield over environmental stewardship.

It's the kind of farming and community mobilization which Angles heads that Winston wants to see here. By regulating our pesticides and a returning to more diversified farming, not only can we sustain the bee populations, we can sustain ourselves.

Not doing so means we might get stung.

 

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