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The Buzziness of BeesKatherine PretoriusThe business of bees is a multi-million-dollar industry. Throughout the U.S, bees produce more than $300 million in honey, propolis, beeswax and other products, which we use in cosmetics, medicines and varnishes, but the real big business of bees is pollinating crops which earns keepers billions of dollars. In fact, bees are viewed much the same as livestock. There is more to bees than the sweet taste of money. What thoughts come to mind when you think of a bee? Images of fuzzy black and yellow striped critters with little antennas or pesky, buzzing insects that sting us and ruin our outdoor gatherings. You may begin to wonder: do we really need bees? The answer, of course, is an unequivocal yes.
Bees are by far nature's foremost pollinator; there are more than 20 000 known species, and almost all are under threat. They play a vital role; without them, nearly all plant life would die, leading to catastrophic collapse across all ecological systems dependent on them. Why are bees disappearing? It is widely known that extreme farming practices, excessive use of agricultural chemicals and factors associated with climate change have had considerable impacts on agriculture and are seen as the leading causes for the rapid decline of bee colonies; however, they are not the only threats. In fact, over the past 15 years, what is known as " colony collapse disorder" has been responsible for the disappearance of up to 90% of honeybee colonies, according to National Geographic. The mechanisms behind colony collapse are undetermined; however, beekeeping practices, which include the use of antibiotics, starvation, malnutrition and other immunodeficiencies, pathogens and the Varroa-Virus, are among the causes considered.
Varroa mites are responsible for spreading the virus, which not only causes the deformation of wings but also infects the bees and feeds their larvae. Bees also spread the virus to other colonies, ultimately reducing honeybee populations, queen bee supersedure, and causing colony collapse. Research conducted by Dr Wilfret, a geneticist from Exeter University, found that the virus originated in Asia and made its way across continents. 'It is largely a man-made problem driven by the trade movement of honeybee colonies. The virus is spreading because of the transport of European honeybees,' said Dr Wilfret. Bees are economically and ecologically important insects These vanishing bees have a tremendous economic impact. In addition to being a keystone species (meaning they contribute disproportionately to the ecosystem), bees are estimated to contribute 15-30 billion dollars in agricultural productivity every year.
According to the South African Biodiversity Institute, the local honey industry generates an average turnover of R3.2bn per year, equivalent to roughly 2000 tonnes.
Honeybees pollinate two-thirds of all Australian agricultural and horticultural crops. The quality, productivity, and attractiveness of fruits such as apples, peaches and raspberry berries, are much higher; in fact, fruit serviced by honeybees store better for longer. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) experts estimate that bees are responsible for a third of global food production. Roughly 90% of the world's wild plants and 75% of all crops rely on pollination. Our existence on earth is, in fact, reliant on them, and life on this planet would be a very different place without them – we should not underestimate their importance.
Though recent research has shown a slight increase in the number of certain bee colonies, bees are not yet out of the woods, and much needs to be done to ensure their survival. For global bee populations to be protected, tighter regulations must be imposed on the import of honeybees, along with mandatory health screenings and limits on the movement of bees across borders.
Cultivating a more sustainable approach to agriculture, banning the use of dangerous pesticides and protecting the health of pollinators through habitat preservation will go a long way to helping bees bounce back. Albert Einstein said, 'If the bee disappears off the surface of the globe, then man would have only four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more animals, no more man.'