Contrary to what sceptics and the uninformed would have you believe, climate change is a known reality that has been compounded by human activity, especially in recent years. The consequences of climate change include disruptions in weather patterns, seasons, crops and direct effects on flora, fauna and us.
These effects can be noted in signs all around us, it has raised grave concerns for a small but exceedingly important part of the food chain – the humble bee. Researchers have been noting these effects for several decades, and their observations are not very encouraging.
Bees are known for their honey and stings, but these hardworking creatures contribute far more to our daily lives than one would initially assume. They are one of the most active pollinators, and are responsible for an estimated one-third of the food consumed worldwide – from strawberries and apples, to beans and almonds.
Cross-pollination by bees is one of the most economically viable means of improving crop yield. As an essential component of the ecosystem, a threat to them is a threat to the entire biosphere. Several species of plants depend on them for cross-pollination, without which those species would be in also danger.
Bees require nectar from flowering plants to be able to create the honey that is essential to their colonies. Their hunt for the sweet treasure often leads them to crops that have been sprayed with harmful chemicals that poison them. The loss of natural vegetation and rapid urbanisation has led to worker bees needing to fly farther away from their hives, leading to many dying from fatigue.
The last decade has seen bee populations declining twice as fast, coupled with the rise of the Colony Collapse Disorder – a phenomenon whose cause is being attributed to certain chemicals in fertilizers interfering with the bees internal navigation system. Each of these have contributed to a drastic decline in global bee populations. US beekeepers alone reported a 33 per cent increase in bee population deaths in 2018, as compared to the previous year.
Here in India, the picture isn’t as clear, with little to no studies being conducted regarding the extent of decline in bee populations – a worrying trend considering the importance of the insects to the socio-economic scenario in the country. The apiculture industry in India had a demand worth $513.05 million. It is among the top 11 nations responsible for producing most of the world’s honey. As a result, a loss in bee populations poses a direct threat to the economic security of the many citizens involved, starting from the over 4,600 registered beekeepers in the country.
As the world’s second largest producer of fruits and vegetables, bees are vital for the nation’s economic performance as well. A study by a team from the University of Kolkata, assessed the effect of pollination on five different crop productions and found that the annual loss can be estimated to be $726 million – thus the effects of a loss in bees would also lead to a shortfall in agricultural produce as well.
The threats climate change thus poses to bees is yet another warning we need to heed as soon as possible. From a macro perspective, we need to do more at governmental, organisational and individual levels to ensure we check the progress of climate change as far as possible. At a micro perspective, there is more that can be done for the conservation of their species, from encouraging and funding more studies, to preventing the use of harmful pesticides and simply planting more flowering plants.
The bee is actually a prime example of what teamwork can achieve – in their case, intricate structures and beautiful honey that can stand the test of time. In ours, we can make a difference to the lives of this little insect, and in-turn, improve that of beings all around us. The choice is ours.
Rohan Rehani, Co-Founder of Moonshine Meadery, Asia’s first dedicated mead-maker