Food production is directly reliant on bees, and their disappearance could lead to catastrophic effects on humanity. There are alarming reports all over the internet about how these little insects are dying. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), 75% of the world's food crops rely on bees. For example, it is only possible to have a juicy and well-developed strawberry if dozens of bees go by the flower at the right time and pollinate it. Without them, it would look more like a raisin.
There are many controversies over the causes of this decrease. Experts blame pesticides, but also pests, the loss of their natural habitat and climate change. Industrial agriculture is pointed out as one of the main threats. The spraying of herbicides and pesticides affects the central nervous system of bees, resulting in paralysis and death. Chemicals used in agriculture have led to low rates of bee reproduction and increased the incidence of pests in the colonies. Monoculture also destroys the diversity of food sources for bees, drastically decreasing the resources available for collecting pollen.
One of the best ways to help save bees is to opt for foods that have been more ecologically cultivated. Any progress in transforming the current destructive agricultural system into an ecological farming system will greatly benefit the environment and human food security.
However, cities can play an even more important role. Research published in 2018 by the Royal Society B has shown that bees living in urban areas live healthier lives than their counterparts in rural habitats. Its colonies are larger, better fed and less prone to disease. Urban colonies also outlast their country cousins.
The study finds that urban garden flowers provide a diverse and consistent diet for bees and that the use of fewer pesticides may be the cause of bees thriving in the city. Urban vegetable gardens have been identified as particularly good spots for pollinators because they provide a combination of fruit and vegetable flowers, as well as corners full of weeds and native plants. Another research, published in the Nature Ecology and Evolution magazine, states that urban vegetable and flower gardens often have 10 times as many bees as parks, cemeteries and nature reserves. Researchers also found that gardens in wealthier neighborhoods were home to more pollinators since there are more flowers and a richer variety of plants.
According to the report, the best strategy is to increase the number of urban gardens. Planting the bees' favorite flowers also helps, as well as reducing the frequency of grass mowing in public parks, allowing them to blossom. Bee houses provide a more natural structure for bees and also allow a little human assistance when needed.
Hanging beehive boxes in gardens can also be extremely beneficial (not to mention being an almost unlimited supply of honey). Of course, it is important to be careful and choose the right locations and species. Perhaps the most notorious colonies are those of the Notre Dame Cathedral, which miraculously survived the fire. Some companies, however, have embraced the cause. Studio Gang, for example, has installed bee boxes in its Chicago office and Cookfox has boxes in its New York office. Interestingly, some bees travel within a radius of up to 2 km around their boxes, pollinating and spreading vitality in their path. Urban initiatives have also been implemented. London has planted a 7-mile bee corridor and Utrecht has developed bee-friendly bus stops to increase the population of these desirable insects.
When it comes to bees, it is important to remember that there is a wide range of species. The native ones (often stingless), are the ones that we should be most concerned about protecting because they pollinate their surroundings the most. It is possible to develop small structures to accommodate native bees which provide vital nesting habitat, consisting of a structure similar to a birdhouse containing a series of exposed tubes that bees can lay their eggs on. Nesting bees desperately seek appropriate nesting sites, sometimes even nesting at the ends of old garden hose nozzles, openings in metallic garden furniture, or the hollow ends of wind bells. IKEA has launched the Wildhouse for Wildlife initiative, with houses for insects and small animals made from waste.
Understanding how beehives work and the benefits that bees can provide is inspiring and exciting. The best thing we can do is to begin locally, in our backyards or neighborhoods. Making gardens as friendly as possible is just as easy as adding native wildflowers and nesting spots for native bees. And if our quest is for a better world for humanity in the coming years, the longevity of bees is a very important factor. This is, in fact, a way that cities can contribute, greatly!