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Why protecting bees can enhance national food, nutrition security

Thursday May 23 2019

Bees

Stakeholders in honey sector mark World Bee Day last year. Bees are vital in environmental conservation. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

PETER WARUTERE
By PETER WARUTERE
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The vital role of bees and other pollinators in food and nutrition security is less than appreciated.

The rat race for big dollar irrigation projects and massive procurement of farm inputs overshadows the need for policy and investment to facilitate the work of these pollinators that keep humanity alive.

Without free pollination services from bees, butterflies, birds and others, there would be much less food for the ever-increasingly hungry world.

The World Bee Day, which was celebrated on Monday, was a wake-up call to embrace pollinators or suffer increased hunger and malnutrition.

The day, dedicated by the United Nations General Assembly in 2017 and first observed last year, focuses on the essential role of bees and other pollinators in aiding the production of food crops.

It raises awareness on how pollinators transfer pollen across plants in a natural process that keeps the people and the planet healthy.

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POLLINATION

The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, together with stakeholders in the bee-keeping industry, under the Apiculture Platform of Kenya, organised activities to celebrate the role of bees in food and nutrition security.

The events also focused on the importance of bees in environmental conservation and raised concerns about the rapid decline of bee colonies in Kenya.

Pollination is not just about honeybees that sting and give you a sweetener in equal measure. There are 25,000-30,000 bee species worldwide.

These tiny, industrious insects are the dominant and busiest pollinators. Together with other pollinators, they have significantly contributed to the stability of the global food chain for millions of years.

In a brief, “Why Bees Matter”, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) shares facts about the importance of the pollinators.

CROP YIELD

Three out of four crops producing fruits or seeds for human use depend on pollinators for sustained production, yield and quality.

Moreover, pollinators affect 35 per cent of global agricultural land that support production of 87 of the leading food crops.

Hence, improving pollinator density and diversity boosts crop yields. The reverse would be catastrophic to a world population more vulnerable than ever before to hunger and famine linked to climate change.

The FAO values global crops directly reliant on pollinators at $235 to $577 billion a year.

The UN urges governments and citizens to protect and enhance pollinators and their habitats to improve food and nutrition security and balance the ecosystem.

They are increasingly under threat from human activity — including land-use changes, intensive agriculture, pesticides, diseases and climate change, says FAO.

HABITAT

The greatest threats to pollinators in Kenya include agricultural activity, frequent drought and environmental degradation.

Better management of these activities would improve the habitats necessary for pollinators to survive and reproduce.

A living example is around Kakamega Forest, where FAO reports that open farmlands provide a richer habitat for bees than the species-rich Kakamega tropical rainforest.

The government should invest in a robust policy for promoting pollinators under its ‘Big Four Agenda’ pillar of food security and nutrition.

It should finalise the policy on apiculture to increase opportunities for beekeeping and expand output.

POLICY

The National Farmers Information Service data show only 20 per cent of Kenya’s honey production potential has been exploited.

And there is huge potential, particularly in arid and semi-arid areas where bee flora is abundant.

Proactive stakeholder engagement should be intensified to encourage conscious protection of the pollinators.

So, next time a bee buzzes you, don’t rush for a spray to exterminate it; just blow it away knowingly to guarantee your future food supply in a healthy environment.

Mr Warutere is a director of Mashariki Communications Ltd. [email protected]

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