Bee Hand-Pollinating is the Canary in the Coal Mine
The revelation that hand-pollination by Chinese farmers is growing and in certain areas hand-pollination is necessary ties directly to the loss of nature’s pollinators – honey bees.
Why are bees being lost?
While some insist the Chinese hand-pollination is specific to retaining genetics in high-value species such as the Jinhuali pear, the reality is that the bees in the Sichuan Province of China have simply disappeared after an avalanche of insecticides were applied in the early 1980s in order to kill a particular pest – the Psylla (Pear lice).
Bees are also insects. The insecticides forced their disappearance in the region and their continued use sustains that reality.
It is also a coincidence that that Pear lice swarmed as much of the diversity among the region’s farms were converted to the more profitable Jinhuali pear – a classic case of monocropping. Monocropping decreases diversity and thus predatory species. Previous to this monocropping and the heavy spraying of insecticides that followed, the region contained a diverse collection of small farms that grew a wide variety of crops.
It is also no accident that prior to the monocropping and resulting insecticide spraying, the region was rich with a diversity of bees and beehives – both wild and cultivated.
But all that changed. Today there are no bees, even for the farmers that cannot afford to buy the pollen and pay for hand-pollination.
This is our canary in the coal mine
The disappearance of our bees means we won’t have any almonds to eat. Or blueberries, raspberries, apples, pears, squash, cantaloupes, pumpkins, feijoas, strawberries, figs, avocados, mangoes, plums, cherries, cocoa and other delicious foods. Are you ready for the day that these and other foods disappear from our shelves?
There is no question that hand-pollination is simply impossible for the world’s farmers on any large scale basis. It is only possible for those few crops that bring in high prices, and even then when labor costs are cheap.
Indeed, Chinese hand-pollinators will often employ children to reach the higher branches when hand pollinating.
So what is hand pollinating?
Many of our foods are produced as a result of a sexual exchange of pollen between different plants. This is typically taken care of by nature’s pollinators, the bees and bumble bees, as well as bats and other insects on a more limited basis.
The bees will pick up pollen from one flower and while harvesting the nectar from another flower, deposit some of that pollen onto that flower. This exchange of pollen allows the plant to produce its fruits, which not only provide foods for humans – they also provide the ability for that plant to procreate.
Without the benefit of this massive pollination effort by nature’s pollinators, hand pollination requires that a person take hold of every single flower and manually brush some pollen on it.
A loss of bees can be the result of pesticides and other chemicals such as chemical fertilizers and fungicides being applied onto these very same flowers they are pollinating.
This is not necessarily the same as colony collapse disorder (CCD). This CCD die-off of more than 30% of worker bees throughout the world has indeed been connected with pesticides, but other environmental issues have been collectively implicated in CCD – effectively reducing the bees’ immune systems (just as these same environmental issues can reduce our bodies’ immune systems).
These other factors include pollution and dramatic weather changes, transporting bees thousands of miles by highway, a dramatic increase in varroa mites, a growth of viruses and so forth. And let’s not forget that most commercial bees now must be treated with antifungal chemicals in order to prevent infection. All of these collectively burden the immune system.
Africanized bees have no CCD – reveal stronger immunity
But what is most interesting about this colony collapse disorder, as revealed by Marcus Imhoof’s documentary, “More than Honey,” is that some beekeepers who have begun commercial production of the Africanized “killer” honey bees – which produce delicious honey – have found that the Africanized honey bees do not suffer from colony collapse disorder.
Because they are essentially a wild bee that has not been subjected to the human-inflicted punishments of pesticides, antifungal medicines, highway transportation and other elements of commercial bee operations, they have been observed as mite-free and virus-free by beekeepers that have been facing these problems with their regular honey bees.
We control bees’ future with our wallets
The bottom line is that we are in control of the future of our bees. Yes, you and I. Each of us individually and as a society. How so?
Because consumers are approving the use of pesticides and commercial monocropping by funding these operations with our purchases. We are investing in farms that suffocate our honeybees by purchasing those commercial foods grown with pesticides.
The reality is that practically every plant food today is available organically. If we were to decide (New Year’s resolution anyone?) as individuals and as a society that we were only going to buy organically grown produce, guess what will happen?
The farmers who are spraying will shift to organic production or face going out of business.
And what will happen then? The bees will be relieved of the punishment of pesticides sprayed upon them – and their immune systems will gradually strengthen. They will be able to gradually be able to fight off mites and viruses because their immunity will be stronger.
What will also happen is that the diversity of growing food organically – requiring crop rotation and strengthening crop diversity by using heritage seeds – will also strengthen our soil, leading to less soil erosion. It will also allow insect predators such as birds and bats to multiply, which will keep crop-killing insect populations down naturally.
Organic farmers have become pretty smart over the past few decades. Strategies such as the employment of natural pheromones and predatory species, as well as the spraying of natural oils that repel insects without harming nature have come a long way in recent years.
As consumers, we have to force the change. Large commercial operations won’t switch over otherwise. Yes, we might have to spend a few dollars more for organic foods in the beginning, until the change to organic is industry-wide. But in the long run, we will pay less – less in the loss of our bees, less in hospital costs for pesticide-related disorders, and less in water pollution and soil erosion.
We don’t have too much more time to make the change. The bee die off won’t wait for us. Unless we are ready to become hand-pollinators.
Albert Einstein once predicted that humanity could only survive a few years after our bees died.
Watch the film:
More Than Honey