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| Last Updated:: 29/03/2019

We Need to Save the Bees – but Where Do We Begin?






In the last decade, the population of bees around the world nosedived, prompting concerted efforts to conserve them.



The decline was the result of habitat loss and fragmentation, lack of forage due to mono-cropping and widespread use of pesticides called neonics.



According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, bees are responsible for about 80% of pollination worldwide, making them vital to agriculture. And if their numbers are falling, so will the economy’s.



John Ascher, an expert on bee taxonomy (the science of identifying and classifying organisms) at the National University of Singapore, estimates that there are 719 species of bees in India. Of the 719 species of bees found in India, 300 – according to Ascher – are endemic: they are native to the country and found only here.



Ergo, “as more than 40% of Indian bee species do not occur abroad and are therefore unfamiliar to foreign entomologists, it will be necessary to develop in-country expertise to identify them and also to describe the many additional new species,” Ascher told The Wire.



In the US and Europe, most of the pollinating bees are kept and sustained by humans. However, the prime pollinator in India is the rock bee (Apis dorsata), a wild insect. “So there is a social/public responsibility [and] initiative needed to maintain these animals,” Brockmann, a honey-bee researcher at the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bengaluru, told The Wire. “To get that work done, we suggest a citizen science project will be helpful.”



Brockmann suggests that if farmers realise that bees help with crop productivity, they can help with pesticide regulation. One solution, according to him, is to teach farmers to keep honey bees, maintain colonies and then use them for pollination. But this will have to be done in a way that the kept bees don’t compete with their counterparts in the wild.



“The next step will be to apply a wide range of expertise to make the first status assessment of India’s bee pollinators,” Ascher said. And an India-specific report could help strengthen the science-policy interface to protect the bees.



In all, the diverse research groups and their foreign collaborators at the meeting agreed to draft a proposal for a focused ‘pollinator initiative’. The idea is to then create a steering committee that will help raise funds from the government.