Every year, World Bee Day coincides with the International Day for Biological Diversity (May 20 and 22 respectively), giving us pause to reflect on what the first means for the second: Bees play a vital role in preserving biodiversity, and the protection of these industrious insects is crucial for the survival of our species and for the future of our planet.
The Buzz around Bees
We tend to think of bees as humble creatures, but their ecological importance goes far beyond their role as honey producers. As bees forage for nectar, they transfer pollen from one flower to another—facilitating fertilization and ensuring the proliferation of plant species.
And while hayfever sufferers may lament the effects of pollination, they wouldn’t want to live in a world in which it didn’t take place.
A World without Bees
More than 75% of the world’s food crops depend on pollination, meaning that bees and other pollinators are responsible for sustaining a significant part of our food system.
The value to the ecosystem that these insects provide is enormous: were insects to be paid for the work that they do to produce our food, the cost to society would amount to around €260 billion a year.
Imagine a world without the fruits of their labor. Picture a world without apples or avocados; pears or pumpkins; seeds, strawberries, coffee or chocolate, as well as everyday items like wax and cotton—and you start to get a sense of where we would be without the vital work of pollinators.
→ Learn about Slow Food projects to protect bees and biodiversity
Pollination is vital for maintaining healthy ecosystems, as it helps sustain the multitude of flora and fauna that rely on these plants for food and habitat. But our efforts to protect bees goes beyond mitigating disasters. Effective pollination management has the potential to increase the quantity and quality of agricultural yields, as well as playing a crucial role in maintaining and enhancing biodiversity.
But what does this mean in real terms, and why is the safeguarding of biodiversity so important?
Breaking down Biodiversity
Biodiversity is a technical term for a simple concept: that is the variety and variability of all life on Earth. It encompasses the smallest genes, which make up the building blocks of life to the plant and animal species, of which we are a part — right up to the most complex levels of entire interdependent ecosystems.
Biodiversity is under threat; biodiversity is the only solution
Climate change is here, and preserving biodiversity is the only way to mitigate its effects and sustainably produce food. According to the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), 75% of edible plant varieties have been irreversibly lost while in the United States that figure is a staggering 95%.
Sixty percent of the world’s food today is based on three cereals: wheat, rice and corn. Not on the thousands of rice varieties selected by farmers that once were cultivated in India and China, or on the thousands of varieties of corn that were grown in Mexico, but on the few hybrid varieties selected and sold to farmers by a handful of multinationals.
“We cannot waste any time in building back biodiversity. Biodiversity is what enables agricultural systems to resist and overcome environmental shocks, pandemics and the climate crisis,” says Slow Food president, Edward Mukiibi. “It allows us to produce food with a lower impact on non-renewable resources and fewer external inputs, and is essential for our survival.”
→ Read our position paper on Biodiversity
Protecting Bees and Biodiversity for a Sustainable Future
Bee populations are facing the same challenges that threaten biodiversity around the world. Factors such as habitat loss, pesticide use, climate change and diseases have contributed to an alarming decline, posing a significant risk to global biodiversity with repercussions for the entire ecosystem.
“The international Slow Food network has been working for a long time to save bees from the threats they face,” says Edward Mukiibi, Slow Food president. “Natural habitats must be restored, and agriculture redesigned to serve the planet. Agroecological practices favor not only pollinators but also the natural enemies of parasites, thus allowing ecosystems to maintain balance.”
It is our responsibility as individuals, communities and institutions to take action to protect bees and safeguard biodiversity. Here are some practical steps you can take:
- Support local beekeepers: Purchasing honey and other bee-related products from local beekeepers not only supports their livelihoods but also contributes to the preservation of bee populations. Slow Food has played a crucial role in this, creating 21 bee-related Presidia in 11 different countries, protecting particular kinds of honey and other bee products, or certain bee species or subspecies.
- Create bee-friendly spaces: By sowing nectar-producing plants and diverse flowering plants, herbs, and trees, we can provide bees with a rich and varied source of food throughout the year. Even small gardens, balconies, and common spaces can serve as vital habitats for bees.
- Avoid chemical herbicides: Reducing or eliminating the use of pesticides in gardening protects bees and other pollinators from harmful chemicals. When cultivating your garden, make sure to sow seeds and plants that have not undergone any insecticidal treatment.
- Consume biodiverse products: Individual food choices are the most effective tools we have for forcing changes to industrial agricultural models and transitioning towards a sustainable food system. This year, Slow Food is launching a hashtag challenge to promote local beekeepers and safeguard sustainability. To take part, simply post a photo with a local bee-friendly product and tag yourself with the hashtag #beediversefood.
- Join the Slow Food movement: Slow Food advocates for institutions to phase out pesticides, stop funding intensive monocultures and livestock farming and support small-scale farmers enacting agroecological practices. To get involved in Slow Food, and keep up to date with events in your area, subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on Instagram.
Play Your Part to Protect Bees and Biodiversity
Bees are essential for maintaining diverse ecosystems and facilitating biodiversity which in turn supports a sustainable food system which is good for us, and good for Earth. Prioritizing the protection and preservation of both is imperative if we are to secure a prosperous future on our beautiful planet. By joining Slow Food and supporting our initiatives, you can become part of the change to ensure good, clean and fair food for all.