The Economic Importance Of Honey Bees
A lot of people know very little about the impact of bees on the natural and human environment. Most people have only known the bee for its sting. Consequently, the beekeeping industry is quite small. So you might be wondering, what is all this fuss about bees?
What Would We Do Without Bees?
Bees are an integral part of our lives and without them life would take a very different turn. There are well around 25,000 bee species in the world. The bees provide important natural products and services. The bees pollinate flowers and therefore play an important part in food production. Most plants are totally dependent on certain types of bees for reproduction. It is also for this reason that commercial pollination has began to take shape in the larger agricultural industry. Of all the bee species, the honeybee is the most economically valuable as it is able to focus on particular plants at a time. It does not pollinate randomly because it targets particular plant species in every outing. A single honeybee can pollinate thousands of flowers daily.
Research into the role of honey bees has shown a direct and indirect contribution to food production systems. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC); “More than $15 billion a year in U.S. crops are pollinated by bees, including apples, berries, cantaloupes, cucumbers, alfalfa, and almonds. U.S. honey bees also produce about $150 million in honey annually.” In the UK alone, at least 70 crops are dependent on, or directly benefit from bee pollination. In 1987, Olmstead Alan and Donald Wooten extensively documented the role of the honeybee in alfalfa production in their publication ‘Bee pollination and productivity growth: the case of alfalfa.’ Pollination supports a number of ecosystem services including food chain development without which a lot of plants would die off.
Among other roles, the honey bee is the sole producer of honey. Honey is a valuable economic commodity and is used for medicinal purposes. For thousands of years, honey has been used by man for food. It is estimated that about 100g of honey provides equivalent nutrition to 6 liters of milk or 170g of beef. It contains sugars, vitamins and minerals that are easily absorbed by the body. Medically, honey can be used as a sedative, laxative or antiseptic. It is commonly used in Ayurvedic pharmaceuticals.
Unfortunately, bee populations are diminishing due to intensive and extensive pesticide use in the now lucrative commercial agriculture. Also, increased conversion of natural environments into agricultural lands has led to diminishing wild bee species. According to the US department of agriculture, there is a consistent drop in beehives every year (a 32% decline in 2007; a 36% decline in 2008; and a 29% decline in 2009). A decline in bee population only means a decline in crop productivity. In most areas, growers have begun to adopt commercial pollination in order to improve agricultural productivity. In some parts of China, farmers have resorted to manual pollination of flowers due to lack of bees. If bees are not saved, then the planet is doomed!