World Bee Day; what’s the 'buzz' about?

TEHRAN, May 22 (MNA) – For the very first time ever, World Bee Day was observed on May 20 across the planet in a bid to draw attention to the role these buzzing pollinators play in food security. Tehran was also invited to celebrate the occasion at the Slovenian embassy – the country that proposed the proclamation of World Bee Day to the UN.

If you are a fan of the British science fiction anthology television series ‘Black Mirror’, the final episode of the series’ third season ‘Hated in the Nation’ must have definitely been in your top five list. The episode depicts a period in time (probably, alarmingly, in the not too distant future) in which Britain’s native honey bee population has died out, prompting the UK government to fund a project that develops robotic bees (or the Autonomous Drone Insects – or ADIs, as called in the episode) in a bid to help pollinate British flowers and crops. The downside of this cutting-edge technology, true to the series’ form, is that the bee drones are hacked and reprogrammed to attack and kill specific people. The episode did nothing to assuage my apiphobia, but apart from its centerpiece warning against the consequences of cyberbullying, it had one sobering prediction: a world without bees.

According to recent reports by major international organizations, the world’s bee population is really in decline. The 2015 IUCN report notes that “nearly 10% of bees are facing extinction, and around 5% of them are probably endangered, while no data is available for nearly 57% of species.”

Bees are responsible for the pollination of nearly three quarters of the plants that produce 90% of the world’s food. A world without bees is a world losing a third of its food production. Food shortage on such a massive scale should remind you of desperate, starving survivors scavenging for food during a zombie apocalypse. That image is horrific enough to send everyone with even a smidgen of common sense into frenzy.

One way to save the earth from such a harrowing fate is to build robo-bees that would cost a fortune and probably kill you if they fall into the wrong hands. Another way, is to raise awareness, which is considerably cheaper and does not run the risk of killing you, intentionally or otherwise. And that is exactly what the Slovenian embassy in Tehran did on May 20 – the day registered at the United Nations as World Bee Day, on the initiative of the Republic of Slovenia.

The embassy held the first observance of World Bee day on Sunday to send the message that “we are all united in the care and protection for bees … to remind every single one of us how dependent and how interconnected are our lives with these incredible beings,” as said by Slovenian Ambassador Kristina Radej in her opening speech at the event.

The place was jam-packed with a number of ambassadors and heads of various beekeeping associations, representatives from FAO and UNIC, journalists and some interested public, all gathered at the embassy building in the upper class neighborhood of northern Tehran to be informed about the significance of bees for food security and the sustainability of human life.

“We hope that [the observance of World Bee Day] will become an important tradition with which we will step up the necessary efforts for their preservation and thus continue to a more sustainable agriculture and global food security,” said Ms. Radej of the importance of holding such events.

You may be wondering, ‘why Slovenia?’, and ‘why May 20?’

“Slovenia ranks among the best in the world regarding the number of beekeepers per capita,” said Ms. Radej. Indeed, with five beekeepers per 1,000 inhabitants, the country is at the very top of the list. Much like Iran, Slovenia has its own native bee species: The Carniolan honey bee, which is the only protected native honey bee at the EU due to its “non-aggressiveness, immunity to diseases, suitability for collecting forest honeydew” and many other qualities.

May has been picked as the month when development of bees in the Northern hemisphere is in full swing, and the 20th of May corresponds with the birthday of Anton Janša (1734-1773),  the Carniolan apiarist credited as the pioneer of modern beekeeping in the world.

The ambassador went on to add, “World Bee Day is only the beginning of a challenging path to preserve pollinators. To achieve that, we first need to address the governments of all states, economists and non-governmental organizations; the voice on the urgency to preserve bees must reach every single person. We also need to perform concrete activities to enhance care for bees and the development of beekeeping.”

The gathering at the event was invited to taste different Slovenian and Iranian honey set on the tables, and to take a look at the embassy’s very own “Slovenian traditional urban beehome” in the terrace; a wooden house painted with colorful depictions of “everyday stories, superstitions, customs and love motifs”, distinctive to Slovenian ethnographic identity.

“I believe that at the moment, we are the only embassy in Tehran with our own beehome,” said Ms. Radej. “I would like to encourage my dear colleague ambassadors to follow us…to follow the bees and invite them to have their home at their embassies’ gardens as well.”

Also speaking at the event was FAO Representative ad interim to Iran, Mr. Rao Matta, who stressed that “bees are the sign of well-functioning ecosystems … [and] the decline of pollinators is also a sign of the disruptions that global changes are causing to ecosystems of the world.”

“Bees are increasingly endangered due to environmental threats … shrinking habitat … expanding monoculture areas … [as well as] new bee diseases and pests,” he said.

Mr. Matta referred to the “pollination crisis” – the continued decline in the population of pollinators in many ecosystems worldwide – saying FAO has coordinated the International Pollinator Initiative in order to “support countries in monitoring pollinators and better understand threats, information needs and data gaps.”

The FAO official then turned the topic to Iran, and the country's over two-thousand-year tradition of beekeeping.

“The number of beekeepers and the amount of honey produced [in Iran] are increasing year by year,” he said. “In 2016, the country was the seventh biggest honey producer in the world, producing up to 77,000 tons of honey. Last year Iran increased its honey production to 88,000 tones and now after China and Turkey, is the third biggest producer in the world.”

The figures are impressive when compared to Slovenia’s annual honey production which stands at 2,500 tones. Iran also has the fifth largest number of colonies in the world, according to deputy minister of agriculture.

Mr. Matta further voiced FAO’s intention to further its collaboration with the Iranian government in beekeeping sector to “contribute to global food security, eradication of hunger and malnutrition and preserving the environment from further losses in biodiversity”.

Also present at the event was Maria Dotsenko, the UNIC Director in Tehran, who voiced her pleasure at seeing so many people involved or interested in the beekeeping sector at this special gathering.

“For centuries bees are known to have benefited people, plants and the planet. By carrying pollen from one flower to another, bees, butterflies and other pollinators facilitate and improve food production, thus contributing to food security and nutrition,” she said of the importance of bees. “Pollination also has a positive impact on the environment in general, helping to maintain biodiversity and a vibrant ecosystem upon which agriculture depends.”

Talking about the importance of observing Bee Day, Ms. Dotsenko noted that observing this occasion each year will draw the attention to the roles bees and other pollinators play in people and the planet’s health; “It provides the opportunity for governments, organizations, civil societies, and concerned citizens everywhere to promote actions that will protect and enhance pollinators and their habitats. It improves their diversity and supports the sustainable development of beekeeping,” she said.

As Ms. Radej said, this is just the beginning. The population of pollinators worldwide are in danger, and many steps need to be taken to ensure their continued existence. Next time you are about to bite into a tasty apple, or munch on a delightful piece of chocolate, just remember that without bees, there would be no apple or chocolate to savor.

News Code 134249

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