Bees and pollinators are the major ecosystem service providers in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) designed to achieve synergy between human well-being and the maintenance of environmental resources by 2030.
The global attention has been brought to the essential role bees and other pollinators play in keeping people and the planet healthy following a resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2017 declaring May 20 as the “World Bee Day (WBD)”. The first observance of WBD was held on 20 May 2018 in Ljubljana, Republic of Slovenia. Each year, observation of WBD highlights the essential role bees and other pollinators play in keeping ecosystem healthy.
It reminds governments, farmers, civil society and concerned citizens to promote actions that will protect and enhance pollinators and their habitats, improve their abundance and diversity, and support the sustainable development of beekeeping.
As the population of pollinators is declining globally, the pollination services are also increasingly deteriorating resulting in low productivity of the crops. This trend is more visible in developing countries, where chemical pesticides are haphazardly used. Honeybees, the most efficient pollinators, provide plants with pollination service, crucially important for agricultural production and natural ecosystems and bestow wonderful hive products like honey, pollen, royal jelly, beeswax and bee venom, which have immense specific nutritional and medicinal importance. Bees through pivotal pollination contribute to maintaining agro-ecology and overall ecosystem. In return, the natural environment, along with plants and habitats, provides food and home to bees.
Flowers provide food (nectar and pollen) for bees and bees provide pollination services to the plants—a kind of mutualism resulting in various co-evolutions. Promotion of agro-forestry and agro-ecological approaches can significantly improve, provide or rehabilitate pollinators habitats, and provide forage resources contributing to the conservation and protection of pollinators and hence to sustainable agricultural development. Agro-ecology based farming and integrated pest management (IPM) are highly promising technologies to respond to pollinators’ decline.
Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has a leading role in the implementation of “The International Pollinator Initiative Plan of action 2018-2030”. This initiative promoted coordinated action worldwide to implement coherent and comprehensive policies for the conservation and sustainable use of pollinators at the local, sub-national, national, regional and global levels.
A study has indicated that the value of pivotal role played by honeybees in pollination services is underestimated and less appreciated especially in the developing countries. In fact, the main significance of honeybees and beekeeping is pollination, an essential link in a chain of great significance to agricultural production with contributions that about one-third of our total diet comes directly or indirectly from bee-pollinated crop plants.
Beekeeping is an environment-friendly low-input-high-output activity that can be undertaken with locally available materials and limited resources. It offers decent self-employment opportunities to people in extreme poverty, small-scale producers , forest dwellers, women, youth and even differently-abled citizens thereby contributing to food security, income generation and ultimately to their livelihoods throughout developing world.
Indigenous people have been vital in moderating significant hereditary supplies and are sole source of information about some honey bee species and their products. Such information provides clues to numerous difficulties, including environmental change. Indigenous people have been bridling their conventional knowledge on honey bees to create a sustainable source of income in recent years.
The bees and pollinators are the major ecosystem service providers in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) designed to achieve synergy between human well-being and the maintenance of environmental resources by 2030.
In order to address the challenges related to global decline of pollinators FAO has been supporting the Government of Nepal through various programs and projects for the conservation and management of the ecosystem services and to reduce pesticide hazards to the environment, animal and human health in Nepal. FAO implemented a project titled "Conservation and Management of Pollinators for Sustainable Agriculture, through an Ecosystem Approach" (also known as the Global Pollination Project – GPP) funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and supported by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The objective of the project was to harness the benefits of pollination services provided by wild biodiversity for human livelihoods and to identify and promote the best practices adopted by the farmers and create awareness for the conservation and sustainable use of the pollinators.
Similarly, FAO supported National IPM programme in Nepal (2005-2008) to produce safe food by reducing use of chemical pesticides and saving bees and other pollinators. FAO Nepal is also working on strengthening the agro-ecosystem services by identifying the best management practices adopted by the farmers and recommending them to promote food security and nutrition in three districts of Nepal namely Dang, Gulmi, and Mustang focusing on three target pollinator-dependent crops: Mustard, Citrus and Apple respectively.
There is an urgent need for a significant increase in bee-pollinated crops by conserving and protecting bees and supporting beekeepers to improve food and nutrition security in low-income countries. It also entails to increase awareness and understanding the importance of honeybee in food production and human nutrition. It is in the best national interest to have a thriving beekeeping industry.
The author is UN FAO Representative in Nepal and Bhutan