No bees, no honey? It’s a bigger problem than that

31 July, 2020

The foods at risk if bee populations collapse

Hands up who likes honey? Of course, you’d be worried about the future of honey bees in the face of diseases like varroa and colony collapse disorder. Thankfully these diseases don’t appear to have spread to Australia yet, but worldwide, it’s a big concern. That’s why on 15 August, World Honey Bee Day seeks to highlight the important role bees play in food production. You see, it’s not just honey that’s going to be off the table if bee populations collapse. In his book, The Bee Friendly Garden, Doug Purdie cites research that bees:

  • Perform 80 percent of pollination duties for all plants worldwide
  • Pollinate 70 of the top 100 human foods
  • Are responsible for 90 percent of the world’s plant nutrition

In addition, Wheen Bee Foundation says that nearly two-thirds of Australia’s agricultural production benefits from honey bee pollination – including crops that feed farm livestock. Just some of the foods that rely on bees include:

  • Almonds
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Cucumbers
  • Melons
  • Apples
  • Avocados
  • Cherries
  • Zucchini
  • Pumpkin

Many of these plants are incapable of self-pollination, or produce lower quality crops than they can achieve with cross-pollination. Some plants, for example, avocado trees, have complete flowers with both male and female parts, but they open at different times making self- pollination less likely. Many plants need bees to collect the pollen on their legs and transfer it between plants.

Why are bees at risk?

There are some key factors that are putting bees at risk worldwide. These include:

  • Diseases and pests: As stated above, Australia is, for now, the only continent free of the Varroa destructor mite – just one reason why strict quarantine laws are so important.
  • Habitat destruction and access: This includes logging and urban encroachment.
  • Agricultural chemicals: Many insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and fertilisers can be toxic to bees.
  • Climate: Drought is a significant risk for Australia’s bee populations, as well as hives being destroyed through natural disasters like bushfires.

What can you do to help protect bees?

If you have a garden or even just a balcony, planting plenty of flowering bee-friendly plants is a great start – both for honey bees and native bees. Other things you can do is have places where bees can stop and have a drink of water, like a bird bath.

Honey fans should seek out Australian honey to keep the beekeeping industry viable. As well as the readily available supermarket brands, you can also source small scale and hyper local honey, like Two Creeks Honey just a stone’s throw away in East Lindfield. Finally, given the risks of pesticides and other chemicals to bee populations, try to buy food produced without harmful chemicals when possible.