Will bees survive? (And all of us with them?)

NEW RELEASES – “Believe it or not, you have a bee to thank for every one in three bites of food you eat.”1 This is how Greenpeace succinctly sums up the role of bees in our day-to-day life. Bees, as the “predominant and most economically important group of pollinators in most geographical regions”2, are absolutely vital to grant biodiversity and food production on Earth. However, bees are nowadays under threat, slowly disappearing from the environment. This article tackles the human rights implications of such events, whilst adopting a forward-looking perspective on the issue.

English

A “pollinator crisis”?

As the United Nations3 pointed out, bees (as well as butterflies, birds etc.) are natural pollinators, i.e. the agents that, flying from male to female flowers and transporting pollen, assure the reproduction of plants. Specifically, as FAO’s Nicola Bradbear states, “Pollinators  strongly  influence  ecological  relationships,  ecosystem  conservation  and  stability,  genetic  variation in the plant community, floral diversity, specialization and evolution.”4 Despite the recognised importance of bees and their vital role in determining the perpetuation of life, UNEP's Report5 stated that, since 1998, beekeepers have reported unusual mortality in bees’ colonies.


As much as it’s currently impossible to talk about a real “pollinator crisis”, scientists have found out that bees are dying from a variety of factors: pesticides, drought, habitat destruction, nutrition deficit, air pollution, global warming and more. As Greenpeace6 importantly noted, many of these causes are interrelated with the common denominator being humans. Human beings have impacted the landscape through fragmentation, degradation and destruction of natural habitats, as well as the creation of new anthropogenic ones.7 Notably, climate change is having a strong impact on the livelihood of pollinators. In fact, factors such as an overall shortening of the growing season and fluctuations in greening ultimately “alter the natural synchronisation between pollinator and plant life-cycles.”8

 


Human rights implications

Given the vital role played by bees in determining the correct functioning of the ecosystem and biodiversity9 on the planet, the implications of their decrease needs to be assessed from a human rights perspective.

Remarkably, food production is going to be strongly affected. Currently, “seventy out of the top 100 human food crops — which supply about 90 percent of the world’s nutrition — are pollinated by bees.”10 Essentially, as the United Nations pointed out, “farmers and consumers are […] dependent on healthy pollinator populations.”11 Having less bees means having less food and with the world population constantly growing, this is a matter we need to urgently focus on.  Only by doing so, we’ll be able to address the basic need of nutrition, which is a human right protected by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.12

Ironically, what is now threatening human rights, was largely created by humans themselves. “Human beings have fabricated the illusion that in the 21st century they have the technological prowess to be independent of nature. Bees underline the reality that we are more, not less, dependent on nature’s services in a world of close to 7 billion people,” UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said.13

 


How to save the bees?

UNEP has explicitly listed specific issues upon which the global community should focus: habitat conservation, alternative agriculture, alternative pollinators and larval stage conservation. Some action has been taken already.

For instance, the European Commission has taken steps to ban specific pesticides declared lethal for bees.14 Moreover, ecological farming is the overarching new policy trend that will stabilise “human food production, preserve wild habitats, and protect the bees”15 with Bhutan leading the world in adopting 100% organic farming policy. Following a similar trend, Mexico has banned genetically modified corn and in India “scientist Vandana Shiva and a network of small farmers have built an organic farming resistance to industrial agriculture over two decades.”16


As much as the examples listed above represent positive signs, much still needs to be done. “Pollination is not just a free service but one that requires investment and stewardship to protect and sustain it.”17 In-depth studies on the conservation and management of native pollinating species should be carried out thoroughly. At the same time, “economic assessments of agricultural productivity should include the costs of sustaining wild pollinators”18, juxtaposed with climate change impact on their livelihood. Ultimately, this is absolutely fundamental since bees represent an inextricable part of our life and we can’t ignore their relevance in safeguarding our most fundamental human rights.

 


1 Greenpeace, “Save the Bees - Be the solution to help protect bees in crisis.” Available at: http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/sustainable-agriculture/save-the-bees/
2 United Nations Environmental Programme (2010) “UNEP Emerging Issues: Global Honey Bee Colony Disorder and Other Threats to Insect Pollinators.” Available at: http://www.unep.org/dewa/Portals/67/pdf/Global_Bee_Colony_Disorder_and_T...
3 UN News Centre (2008) “UN agency launches scheme to protect bees, birds and other pollinators”, United Nations. Available at: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=27651
4 BRADBEAR Nicola (2009) “Bees and their role in forest livelihoods”, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome. Available at: http://www.fao.org/docrep/012/i0842e/i0842e00.htm
5 UNEP, Op.Cit.
6 Greenpeace, Op.Cit.
7 UNEP, Op.Cit.
8Ibidem
9 BRADBEAR, Op.Cit.
10 Greenpeace, Op.Cit.
11 UN News Centre (2008), Op.Cit.
12 Article 11, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 1976.
13 UN News Centre (2011) “Humans must change behaviour to save bees, vital for food production – UN report”, United Nations. Available at: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=37731
14 European Commission (2014) “EU efforts for bee health.” Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/food/animals/live_animals/bees/health_en
15 Greenpeace, Op.Cit.
16Ibidem
17 UNEP, Op.Cit.
18 Ibidem


MR – Research Assistant at CIPADH 

 


Webography

Beyond Pesticides, “BEE Protective - Protecting Honey Bees and Wild Pollinators From Pesticides.” Available at: http://www.beyondpesticides.org/programs/bee-protective-pollinators-and-...

BRADBEAR Nicola (2009) “Bees and their role in forest livelihoods”, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome. Available at: http://www.fao.org/docrep/012/i0842e/i0842e00.htm

COLOSS (Honey bee research association) “Colony losses monitoring.” Available at: http://www.coloss.org/coreprojects/monitoring

European Commission (2014) “EU efforts for bee health.” Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/food/animals/live_animals/bees/health_en

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2005) “Protéger les pollinisateurs.” Available at: http://www.fao.org/ag/fr/magazine/0512sp1.htm

Greenpeace, “Save the Bees - Be the solution to help protect bees in crisis.” Available at: http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/sustainable-agriculture/save-the-bees/

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 1976. Available at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CESCR.aspx

United Nations Environmental Programme (2010) “UNEP Emerging Issues: Global Honey Bee Colony Disorder and Other Threats to Insect Pollinators.” Available at: http://www.unep.org/dewa/Portals/67/pdf/Global_Bee_Colony_Disorder_and_T...

UN News Centre (2008) “UN agency launches scheme to protect bees, birds and other pollinators”, United Nations. Available at: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=27651

UN News Centre (2011) “Humans must change behaviour to save bees, vital for food production – UN report”, United Nations. Available at: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=37731

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