Why Bees Are Important
Einstein is reputed to have said:
“if the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe,
then man would have only four years of life left”
It is not an exaggeration to say that bees are essential to the welfare of mankind and to the future of the planet. They are the chief pollinators of most flowering plants, including trees and 60% of food crops. Some plant species are only pollinated by bees and some particularly important crops in The Gambia, including cashews and mangoes, are only pollinated by honey bees. A strong bee population can increase crop yields by 40%. Conversely, if bees are absent it is not possible to grow some crops successfully.
Despite this, in The Gambia as elsewhere, the bee is under threat as never before.
What’s happening to the bees?
In the West, a great deal of press coverage in recent years has highlighted the problem of disappearing domestic bee colonies, possibly caused by a disease called Colony Collapse Syndrome (CCS), but, despite growing concern at international government level and several years of investigation, no solution seems to have been found. The reduction in the supply of honey and wax has been huge. But even more significant has been the impact on bee-pollinated crops, for example cherries and almonds in the US, where crops have been decimated.
Although it has its share of diseases and pests, West Africa at present does not experience CCS. The main threats to the bee in West Africa are almost entirely attributable to man. Many areas of natural bee habitat have been destroyed by inappropriate farming and deforestation.
Many governments and international aid agencies are concerned with food security and protection of the environment but tend to focus on biodiversity, genetic engineering, water supply and planting trees. In our view, too little attention is being given to the key issue of pollination. It is not an exaggeration to say that the extinction of the bee is a real possibility in some places. In this event, the consequences would be disastrous.
The need for action to save bee habitats and increase bee populations is at last beginning to be recognised in Africa, where in recent years there has been something of a revival of interest in beekeeping and related activities. But the link with pollination is still not strong enough. With its partners KOMFFORA and Peace Corps, BEECause is keen to encourage initiatives to reverse the decline and protect bees, for example by establishing self-supporting bee reserves in community managed sustainable forests – our Bees for Trees programme. A small start has been made with the support of the (then) British High Commission and the Gambian National Parks Department but so much more is needed and could be achieved with even modest funding.