25 May 2017
Save the bees
A campaign for the safeguarding of biodiversity
Bees do not merely produce honey. They enable life on planet Earth by restoring degraded territories and ensuring the proliferation of biodiversity. Unfortunately, due to anthropogenic changes, bees have been encountering hostile environments that, by directly threatening their survival, are indirectly also threatening the human species. An international campaign spanning across the territories adjacent to the Mediterranean Sea has been parsing bees as fundamental actors within our ecosystem, and thus as a heritage to be safeguarded.
There are several bee colonies decorating the Moroccan rocky landscape facing the Mediterranean Sea: decorated by few oleanders and young olives trees, the Moroccan lands bordering the Rif Mountains are host to several beehives. It is winter and is raining. The bees are ‘at home’, and yet, some of them fly around their beehives, annoyed by the turbulent weather and, most importantly, by those who come and disturb their routine. The waves of smoke sent by the experienced beekeepers to confuse them and calm them down are not much use: these bees can get dangerously aggressive. The expedition is composed of researchers, scholars, journalists, some local admirer and of course the beekeepers.
Chefchaouen, a charming, little, urban agglomerate roughly 100 kilometres away from Tangiers, celebrated for its medina – the old town – declared part of the UNESCO cultural heritage, was the host city for the VIII International Mediterranean Beekeeping Forum, organised by a Federation of beekeepers counting members from 11 different Mediterranean countries: Morocco, France, Tunisia, Algeria, Lebanon, Albania, Palestine, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt and Italy. The Federation promotes economic cooperation amongst those European, African and Middle Eastern countries affected by the agro-ecological weather pattern of the Mediterranean Region. Specifically, economic cooperation is fostered through the exchange of research data and technological innovations, the promotion of professional trainings and, most importantly, the guarantee of the quality of the honey. The Federation seems to be working effectively: it encompasses a variety of actors, including small realities, with the intent of bringing them together to connect with global value chains, enlarging their revenues and thus positively impacting on the quality of their products. However, there is something quite special that characterises this reality, enriching it with an intrinsic value: bees are not only responsible for producing cashable honey but also for safeguarding the survival of biodiversity and thus indirectly guaranteeing defence to the edible products – being them vegetables or meet-derived – that we daily consume.
Bees are indeed incredibly valuable. Not only because they are indefatigable suppliers of honey, wax, propolis and royal jelly, which are still today an important source of income all over the world, but also and above all, because they are responsible for the reproduction of most plant species through pollination. Bees help to guarantee the supply of food for the entire planet: in the search for nectar they carry fertile pollen from flower to flower, setting in motion the life cycles of over 200,000 plant species, 300 of which are important foods for humans and animals.
However, despite their importance, bees are disregarded and often threatened by the human actions that they allow to flourish in the first place: “In our era of the global economy, threatened by intensive agriculture, the massive use of pesticides, genetic experimentation, desertification and climate change, which put at risk the life of all living species and have already caused an alarming mortality of bees, this little buzzing insect plays a fundamentally important role: that of the sentinel of the environment and the guarantor of biodiversity. With the pollination they provide, bees ensure the maintaining of the variety of plant species and, indirectly, of the animal species that eat those plants, and with their sensitivity they represent an extraordinary indicator of the state of environmental health. They are an asset which all humanity has benefited from for thousands of years”.
Pollination concerns roughly 80% of all flowering plants, allowing the production of fruits and vegetables, the endurance of pastures and the survival of woods, and hence providing food for humans and animals alike. The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation) highlights that 71 out of the 100 crops providing 90% of the food in the world are directly dependent on the operatus of bees, which has been estimated to have a monetary value of roughly 207 billion a year. The net total value of comestible agricultural products has suffered a 9.5% decrease due to the increasing death ratio of bees. The most affected crops have been fruits/vegetables and oil seeds, which have respectively lost 50 and 39 billion per annum. In spite of this all, it is appears ironic to note that bees’ work ethic is not impacted by financial revenues.
To emphasise the importance of bees and to stress their pivotal role in our ecosystem, ApiMed has recently launched “CooBEEration”, an international campaign aimed at spreading information and awareness on the necessity of safeguarding, sustaining and acknowledging bees and beekeepers as fundamental actors from preserving biodiversity and improving food security. As they put it themselves: “The main goal of the campaign is to change the perception of beekeeping: from a simple income-generating activity to a "Global Common Asset".
The campaign, co-funded by the European Union, is sponsored by the Local Authorities Fund for Decentralized Cooperation and Sustainable Human Development, by the Federation of Mediterranean Beekeepers (APIMED), by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and by several universities and research centres of the Mediterranean.