Saving our bees one pesticide at a time

By Naomi Grewan

Over the past few years the plight of the bees has been all over social media. Since their status changed to endangered, environmental activists have desperately been trying to inform the global society on the importance of bees.

Although their efforts might have been great, the bee population is still depleting at an alarming rate.

A wild bee on a yellow and white flower. Photo sourced from: Wikimedia Commons

Insect pollinated plants account for over 40% of all food and beverages consumed, and 70% of all flowering plants. It only makes sense as to why the fate of the bees is so important. If the bee population continues to deteriorate, the entire ecosystem could collapse too.

There are two main species of bees, namely honey bees and wild bees. Both these species play key roles in pollination, but both their populations are facing a rapid decline.

Honey bees are kept by beekeepers and produce honey for human consumption. Wild bees, as per their name, live outside of human enclosures and produce small amounts of honey for themselves.

Honey bees on their honeycomb at a honey farm. Photo sourced from: Wikimedia Commons

As it currently stands, France is setting the example for bee protection. On the weekend of 19 July 2019, France’s nationwide ban on all five bee-killing pesticides was set into place.

Near the end of 2018, the European Union issued a ban on three of the five pesticides but France has taken it one step farther and has banned all of them.

The five pesticides that are known for killing bees are called neonicotinoids. They are used in both outdoor and indoor agricultural practices. The chemicals were introduced in the 1990s and are structured around nicotine.

All five pesticides do the same thing and attack the insects' central nervous system as soon as the insect comes into contact with the pesticide.

These chemicals pose a significant health risk for bees and are one of the main contributors to the collapse of the bee population.

Studies suggest that these neonicotinoids have a similar effect on bees to what nicotine has on human beings. Bees become addicted to the pesticide that then proceeds to hinder their vision, flight, and abilities to navigate.

A honey bee captured pollinating a purple flower. Photo sourced from: Wikimedia Commons

When it comes to South Africa, not much has been done to help the bees yet, but there is hope.

Stephan du Toit, beekeeper and CEO of Du Toit Honey Farms near Vredefort in the Free State, spoke to Farmers Weekly about protecting bees in South Africa.

Du Toit said that the communication needs to be improved between beekeepers, farmers, and crop protection agencies (read the full interview here).

Du Toit also pointed out that beekeepers tend to only communicate with farmers where their hives are kept but don’t speak to farmers from surrounding farms.

However, it is not only up to the beekeepers and farmers to help protect the bees. Country Life South Africa gives us a few ways in which ordinary citizens can contribute to saving the bees:

  • Firstly, allow dandelions, clovers and other bee-friendly plants to grow freely. Avoid picking them or weeding them out.

  • Secondly, if you see a bee don’t kill it. Rather get someone to help you remove it without killing it.

Unfortunately, if the bee population continues to decline so will our food supply and vegetation. As citizens of the Earth, we owe it to her to protect all inhabitants, especially after all the damage that’s been caused.

We can’t all be Morgan Freeman and turn a 124-Acre ranch into a bee sanctuary but we can all do our part to protect these little creatures.

The smallest actions can make the biggest difference, bees are proof of that.

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