“The international Slow Food network has been working for a long time to save bees from the main threats they face,” says Edward Mukiibi, Slow Food president. “Among the main causes of their decline is the wide use of pesticides in conventional agriculture over several decades, monocultures, diseases and parasites, land use and the climate crisis.”
“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 the agroecosystem to maintain balance. It is important to plant crops in alternating strips, to include hedges and mixed-species meadows, and to rotate crops with clover and other legumes. It is also essential to minimize the use of pesticides, especially insecticides and fungicides, in order to allow insect populations to recover and to continue to carry out their beneficial work in the ecosystems that we share with them.”
Bee engaged in pollinator-friendly agricultural production. The theme of World Bee Day 2023 reminds us that insects are the most diverse group of animals on Earth, and the crucial role pollinators play for the protection of biodiversity, for agriculture, and for the planet as a whole. They are an integral part of our food systems because they pollinate the crops that end up as food on our tables.
The Slow Food network in action
These are some examples of the work of the Slow Food network to protect and promote bees.
In 2006 a beekeeping project was launched on the rooftop of a building in Ginza, a district of Tokyo, Japan, with the aim of promoting locally-produced goods and revitalizing the local community. When searching for ways to create a space for urban producers to feel close to agriculture, beekeeping was an obvious pathway. In areas like Ginza there are abundant sources of honey, such as street trees, and honey products made in collaboration with Ginza chefs and bartenders have been well received. Urban beekeeping is now thriving in various parts of Japan, from Hokkaido to Okinawa. In Ginza, in addition to beekeeping, efforts are now being made to revitalize the community through urban rooftop greening and agricultural experiences for elementary school students. “Agricultural and welfare cooperation aims to promote independence and social participation by conducting beekeeping and farming activities in facilities for people with disabilities. There are various tasks involved in beekeeping, including bottling and selling honey or making sweets, through which people gain confidence and discover the joy of this work,” explain Kazuo and Sayaka Takayasu, Slow Food Ginza leaders.
“In June 2022, due to poor management of the sentinel hives in the port of Newcastle, on the east coast of Australia, the Varroa destructor parasite reached our shores. Today a large part of the coastal areas of the state of New South Wales are a red zone, where bees have been euthanized and are being baited using the insecticide Fipronil,” explains Amorelle Dempster, Slow Food Maitland Convivium Leader. “Unfortunately too many small-scale farmers and apiarists are losing their livelihoods, contributing to the slow death of food security in our community. This massive program is really expensive and the irony of the whole situation is that it is about protecting the large-scale growers of monocultures, whose insecticides and pesticides kill the living organisms who are reliant on the ecosystem services of the European Honey Bee to pollinate their crops. Together with our Slow Food Earth Market Maitland producers and with the help of the local community, we are now launching the Maitland Pumpkin & Squash Seed Bank Project to preserve local biodiversity, which is essential for us and for our beloved bees.”
“In 2022, the European Commission published a proposal for a new regulation on the sustainable use of pesticides (SUR), which aims to cut the use of pesticides in the EU by 50% by 2030 to protect nature, pollinators and people”, explains Madeleine Coste, Slow Food Advocacy Director. “This proposal has been met with fierce resistance from the agroindustry and their allies, defying the scientific consensus on the need to transform our current food system in order to safeguard food security in the long run. It is absolutely urgent for EU citizens to mobilize and once again remind decision makers of their responsibility to drive a transition to healthy sustainable food.” Now, to advocate for a world with less pesticides, European branches of Slow Food have launched an online campaign to ask people to send personalized emails to influence national and European parliamentarians not to lower the criteria suggested by the European Commission. (ADD LINK)
“In Turkey, we are encouraging people to create their own bee colony on their terrace, throwing flower bombs, while children and their families participate in education and taste activities,” explains Yasmina Loknanoglou, Spokesperson for the Preservation of Food Heritage of Tarsus.
The Foundation of Women Beekeepers is the first and currently the only non-profit women’s public organization registered in Ukraine, which promotes awareness of the importance of bees for food security, conducts relevant research and implements their findings in the practice of beekeeping. “For us, all spheres of activity are harmoniously combined in the hexagon of the bee cell, from work to cooperation, from family to the connection with nature. We build upon a parallelism between women’s lives and the lives of the bees,” explains Leonora Adamchuk, president of the Foundation. “We want to help Ukrainians to taste and promote local honey.”
The role of bees and pollinators
Pollinating insects transport pollen between flowers of the same plant species, allowing for the fertilization of those plants and the subsequent development of fruits and seeds. The miracle of pollination occurs in a variety of ways, but most often relies on the work of insects: More than 80% (about 300,000 species) of all plants and 75% (more than 300 species) of our major crops depend on insect pollinators for reproduction. The value of the ecosystem services that 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 an estimated €260 billion a year.
In addition to pollination services, bees provide precious products including honey, pollen, royal jelly, wax, and propolis, which humans have used and appreciated throughout history.
When we hear about the decline of bees, it is important to remember that it’s not just honey bees that are being affected, but all species of the Apoidea superfamily, of which there are more than 25,000. These bees, which are often called “wild” because they are not farmed like honey bees, are just as important for pollination as their domesticated cousins. Their disappearance may be less talked about, but it is no less catastrophic.
The decline of these insects threatens not only their biodiversity and that of the plants they pollinate, but also the diversity of other animals, many of which feed directly on insects, like birds and amphibians. And, of course, their decline poses a serious danger to humanity, putting our food supply at risk.
Info and videos on Slow Food activities on Bees: https://www.slowfood.com/what-we-do/themes/bees-slow-food/