By Venter Mwongera
In the vast continent of Africa, an army of small but mighty creatures plays a crucial role in protecting biodiversity, mitigating climate change, and achieving food sovereignty. These tireless workers are none other than bees-the World today, May 20th, 2023 celebrates World Bee Day.
The purpose of this international day is to acknowledge the role of bees and other pollinators for the ecosystem. Beyond bees’ sweet honey and buzzing symphonies, they provide an invaluable ecological service, and their significance cannot be overstated.
Through their intricate pollination process, bees safeguard the delicate balance of nature, foster plant reproduction, and promote food security in the face of changing climatic conditions.
This opinion piece explores the critical role bees play in conserving biodiversity, mitigating climate change, and achieving food sovereignty in Africa, drawing upon compelling research and scientific evidence.
Bees are unsung heroes of the natural world, quietly fulfilling a crucial task: pollination. The process of pollination allows plants to reproduce and diversify, ultimately maintaining the intricate web of life on our planet.
In Africa, this process is of utmost importance as the continent boasts remarkable biodiversity and faces unique environmental challenges.
Recent research has shed light on the significant impact bees have on conserving biodiversity, mitigating climate change, and nurturing food sovereignty.
Understanding and harnessing the power of these industrious creatures is critical to ensure a sustainable future for Africa’s ecosystems, agriculture, and communities.
Bees and Biodiversity Conservation
Bees, as pollinators, are vital for maintaining biodiversity in Africa. According to a study conducted by Ngo Bieng et al. (2019), bees contribute to the pollination of over 70% of flowering plants globally.
In Africa, this statistic is particularly significant, considering the continent’s rich floral diversity. Without bees, many plant species would struggle to reproduce and survive, leading to a loss of plant diversity and disrupting entire ecosystems.
The intricate relationship between bees and plants forms the foundation of biodiversity, as Smith et al. (2022) discovered that bees were the primary pollinators of several threatened plant species in Africa.
By ensuring the successful pollination of these plants, bees help maintain genetic diversity and prevent the extinction of valuable botanical treasures.
Bees and Climate Change Mitigation
In the face of climate change, bees offer a glimmer of hope. Their role in pollination directly impacts agricultural productivity, making them essential for food security in Africa.
The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) reports that 75% of the world’s food crops depend, at least in part, on pollinators like bees.
In Africa, where agriculture sustains livelihoods for millions, the importance of bees cannot be overstated. Klein et al. (2021) demonstrate that bee-pollinated crops have higher yields, greater nutritional value, and increased resistance to environmental stressors.
This resilience is critical for safeguarding food production in regions vulnerable to climate change, such as parts of sub-Saharan Africa.
By enhancing crop pollination, bees help mitigate the adverse effects of climate change on agriculture, ultimately fostering greater food security for local communities.
Bees and Food Sovereignty
Food sovereignty, the right of communities to define their own food and agricultural systems, is a fundamental goal for Africa. Bees contribute significantly to achieving food sovereignty by ensuring diverse and abundant harvests.
Rader et al. (2020) found that the presence of bees in agricultural landscapes improved crop yields and quality, enabling small-scale farmers to produce more food for local consumption and markets.
This increased productivity not only enhances food security but also empowers communities to shape their food systems according to their cultural preferences. Bees support agroecological practices, which promote sustainable farming methods, biodiversity conservation, and cultural traditions.
By encouraging the adoption of pollinator-friendly practices, such as reducing pesticide use and creating bee-friendly habitats, African farmers can build resilient and self-reliant food systems that align with their cultural values and respect the environment.
Bees and Ecosystem Services
Beyond their role in pollination, bees provide a range of ecosystem services that contribute to the overall health and functioning of African ecosystems.
For instance, bees are excellent bioindicators, reflecting the environmental quality of their habitats. Goulson et al. (2015) emphasize the importance of maintaining diverse bee populations as indicators of ecosystem health and resilience.
Bees also contribute to nutrient cycling and soil fertility through their role in pollination. Winfree et al. (2015) highlight the positive correlation between bee diversity and plant reproduction, emphasizing the significance of bees in sustaining ecosystem resilience.
Bees and Medicinal Plants
The contribution of bees extends beyond agriculture to the realm of medicine. Africa is renowned for its rich biodiversity of medicinal plants, many of which rely on bees for pollination.
Njoroge et al. (2020) demonstrate the vital role of bees in the reproduction of medicinal plants and the preservation of traditional healing practices. Through their pollination services, bees support the sustainable availability of medicinal resources, ensuring the continuation of indigenous healing knowledge and practices.
Bees and Sustainable Livelihoods
Beekeeping has emerged as an important economic activity and source of income for many communities in Africa.
Bee products such as honey, beeswax, propolis, and royal jelly have a significant market demand locally and internationally. Chihombori-Quao et al. (2018) highlight the potential of beekeeping to alleviate poverty and improve livelihoods in rural areas.
By promoting beekeeping initiatives, providing training, and facilitating access to markets, governments providing an enabling policy environment, promotion of political goodwill; organizations can empower communities to generate sustainable income while conserving bee populations.
Threats to Bees
Despite their critical importance, bees in Africa face various threats that jeopardize their populations and the services they provide. Habitat loss due to land conversion, deforestation, and urbanization is a significant challenge for bees.
Pesticide use, including the misuse of agrochemicals, also poses a significant risk, as certain pesticides harm bees and their ability to reproduce. Climate change exacerbates these threats, altering the timing of flowering and disrupting the delicate synchronization between bees and plants.
Addressing the threats faced by bees requires collaborative conservation efforts at multiple levels. Governments can play a crucial role by implementing policies that protect and restore bee habitats, promoting sustainable agriculture through sustainable food production systems and eliminating pesticide use.
Local communities and farmers can contribute by creating pollinator-friendly gardens, preserving natural habitats, and adopting agroecological practices that minimize harm to bees and other pollinators.
International collaborations with local communities and research institutions are vital in developing innovative solutions to bee conservation.
The African Bee Research Network, in partnership with organizations such as the International Bee Research Association and the African Biodiversity Network could aim to enhance understanding of African bees, their diversity, and the challenges they face.
Education and Awareness
Raising public awareness about the importance of bees and their role in biodiversity, climate change mitigation, and food sovereignty is paramount. Educational programs in schools and communities can promote bee conservation and instill a sense of stewardship among the younger generation.
Public campaigns, workshops, and beekeeping training initiatives can also engage adults and farmers, fostering a deeper appreciation for bees and their contribution to sustainable development. “Bees are a crucial force for the vitality of biodiversity and ecosystems. Their role is irreplaceable.
That is why the African Biodiversity Network (ABN) steadfastly supports communities across the continent in reclaiming their resilience against detrimental and foreign environmental practices that pose a threat to bees and other living organisms.
Despite their small size, bees provide an immeasurable service to life on Earth.” Dr. Fassil Gebeyehu, General Coordinator, African Biodiversity Network, ABN.
The author is a Communications and Advocacy Specialist, a mentor at the African Women Leaders in Agroecology-Initiative (AWOLA-I), Chairperson of National and International Engagements at the Inter-Sectoral Forum on Agrobiodiversity and Agroecology (ISFAA) and Treasurer of the Board at the Association of Media Women in Kenya (AMWIK).