How FoodFaith is creating a route filled with flowers to protect endangered pollinators vital to our food production
It’s no secret that the world’s pollinators, particularly bees, are dying off in alarming numbers, but sometimes it’s worth remembering what’s at stake beyond just a great pairing for cheese and a topping for biscuits. A report by the United Nations warns that if the disturbing trend continues, there will be awful consequences for the world’s food supply.
Birds, bees and various types of insects, that fly, hop or crawl from one flower to another play an essential role in sustaining ecosystems and pollinating crops and have been the invisible helpers of farmers worldwide for centuries. When talking about bees specifically, bees carry pollen on their bodies and transfer it from flower to flower, fertilising plants along the way through pollination and allowing the plants to reproduce. And food security research shows that improving pollinator density and diversity – in other words, making sure that more and more different types of bees and insects are coming to your plants – has direct impact on crop yields, making their role in biodiversity vitally important.
When you look at the role of insects this way and the function they provide as pollinators, our quality of life – and our future – depends on the many services that they provide, in nature, for free. If we don’t address the reasons behind this decline in wild bees, and act urgently to reduce it and eventually stop it entirely, we could pay a very heavy price indeed.
The population of pollinators in decline: The Statistics
It’s a dramatic statement, but statistics show that when we lose pollinators, we lose our food supply; our ecosystems and the overall environment can collapse. In fact, global agriculture is completely dependent on pollinators to maintain food production just as insects are dependent on the diverse agriculture to survive. It’s a mutual dependence where up to one in three bites of our food depends on pollination.
According to a study by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) when we look at global agricultural production volumes, 35% comes from crops that depend (to a greater or lesser extent) on pollinators, mainly insects (i.e. one third of human food is mainly from plants pollinated by insects). Out of the 124 main crops grown for global human consumption, 87 (70%) require insect pollination for seed production (e.g., carrots, onions, garlic) and to enhance product quality and yields (e.g., coffee, nuts, many fruits). So we are not overstating things when we say that Bees provide an ecosystem service in the form of crop pollination estimated to be 153 billion Euros a year worldwide!
And as you can see from those statistics, these issues aren’t just isolated to single countries - It’s a bigger global issue.
The mass destruction of bee populations around the world has already forced farmers in the Chinese province of Sichuan to pollinate plants by hand, and in the US some farmers are left with no choice but to rent hives transported cross-country by truck to pollinate crops.
Europe’s wild bee population is in dramatic decline with nearly one in 10 species facing the threat of extinction, which according to the first ever assessment of all the continent’s is nearly 2,000 bee species.
And it’s been going on for a while. Back in 2006, beekeeper Dave Hackenberg inspected 2,400 hives in Florida and found 400 of them abandoned — totally empty! Creepy…
The 3 main reasons this is happening:
The main threat to bees is habitat loss as a result of agriculture intensification (e.g., changes in agricultural practices including the use of pesticides and fertilisers), urban development, increased frequency of fires and climate change.
If we break this down further, recent population studies suggest that by 2050, over 90% of Australians will live in our major cities, which are located in prime bushland and this rapid rate of urbanisation presents ecological threats to our pollinators that play a crucial role in our society.
A recent opinion piece in The Guardian supported this assessment by stating that a lot of the damage is also being done in the developed world by modern farming practices. The use of giant fields, devoid of shelter for insects of any sort at all, whether they are harmful to human interests or not, and where the plants are drenched in long-lasting pesticides, has been fatal for uncounted billions of insects.
Climate change has been another factor in the dip in insect and bee numbers, because heavy rainfalls, droughts and increased temperatures can alter and reduce habitats that species have adapted to over many generations. Plus, according to the same study by the UN, flowers in some parts of the world are now opening at different times than they used to, and the bees are not there to pollinate. This means finding ways to keep pollinators buzzing around the farm year-round is becoming even more important.
Bee the change you want to see: What FoodFaith is doing about it.
FoodFaith are creating Sydney’s first ever B and B highway! The “B” in “B and B” stands for bed and breakfasts for birds, butterflies, bees, and biodiversity. The native bee needs food and shelter every 500 meters, and that’s hard to find in our densely populated urban city.
The B & Bs will serve as resting hubs for them to recharge between work. As we build more and more B & Bs a bee “highway” is created. Our vision is to create gardens and beehives all over Sydney to create green sanctuaries for pollinators and people alike.
The B & Bs will host pollinating gardens and native stingless beehives to foster positive social and environmental outcomes. The Sydney community will benefit from host organisations sharing knowledge, educational sessions and practical offerings such as seeds and honey. And as well as encouraging community participation, the project’s pollinating passageways will provide much-needed sanctuary rest and revival points for pollinators across the urban environment.
Which cities already have bee highways?
A number of cities around the world have already started building pollinating highways and set fantastic best practice examples for us to follow. It’s conceivable, that if they manage to solve a global problem locally, building our own solution will work in Sydney too.
So far, existing highways already exist in Oslo, Belfast and Vancouver. In 2015, Oslo, Norway created the first bee highway in order to save endangered pollinators and sustainable food production. Agnes Lyche Melvaer, head of an Oslo based environmental bee organisation, said, “We are constantly reshaping our environment to meet our needs, forgetting that other species also live in it.” FoodFaith is making a point to remember and care for the integral pollinators that we share this world with, making Sydney among the world’s leaders in protecting pollinators.
How can you help?
The necessary change also relies on individual action. You can help FoodFaith build resting hubs for the birds, bees, and butterflies. We have already funded 6 B & B’s so far, and this week, we launched our crowd funding campaign on Start Some Good to help us build even more. With your help, we aim to build an additional five B & Bs this year and more B & B sanctuaries in the years to come.
The B & B Highway is crucial for the food supply of our children and future generations.
No matter how big or how small, every donation helps! Remember, pollinators are some of the smallest creatures but they accomplish the work that sustains life!
Some cool facts you may not have known about bees
Forgetting the dire state of the world, it can’t be all doom and gloom and it’s hard for us not to want to save the bees. Here are some reasons why:
They help each other navigate using vibrations in the air and, without any appreciable brain capacity, can memorise landscape features, allowing them to range 20 square miles without getting lost.
They are the only insects endowed with symbolic language — in fact the only animals other than humans whose conversations would please Saussure.
When they are not communicating through pheromones, they do it through an elaborate system of dances, namely, the “round dance” and the “waggle dance,” a figure-eight manoeuvre of at least a hundred circuits that incorporates the changing angle of the sun and allows bees to describe the precise distance and direction to a location of interest, usually a pollen site, water source, or new hive. The dance can also be used to choreograph a defensive swarm! And since these dances are not just declarations of fact but also express intensity of feeling, a pair of political scientists in England recently suggested they are really a form of “quadratic voting,” a superior political model that, they acknowledged, real-world humans had not yet achieved.
Of course, a honeybee colony is not a democracy; very noticeably it is also not a patriarchy. In addition to its queen, who personally picks the gender of each of her many thousands of offspring, all the workers in a colony are women. In contrast, its men are called drones and immediately die upon mating, which they do only with queens of other colonies, since queens simply do not mate with their subjects. Obviously.
Read the full story about the beginnings of our B&B Highway in Lane Cove in the Sydney Morning Herald here.