Contributing author: Leslie Brooks
More than 75 percent of the world’s food crops rely on pollinators, according to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). Through their pollination, bees not only promote biodiversity, but also secure our food supply.
But one in four species of bee is at risk of extinction in North America, the UNEP finds. And the International Union for the Conservation of Nature has recorded declines in bee populations in Europe, South America, and Asia.
A combination of factors are contributing to the decline of bees, including habitat loss and degradation, pesticide use, the invasive parasitic Varroa destructor mite, and other diseases. The effects of climate change are compounding these stressors on bee populations worldwide.
But people around the world are working to create an environment that helps bees thrive. In honor of National Honey Month, Food Tank is highlighting 15 organizations and initiatives working to preserve the livelihood of bees, the ecosystem, and the global food supply.
1. Bees for Development, United Kingdom
Bees for Development is an international organization that utilizes beekeeping as a tool to alleviate poverty and retain biodiversity around the world. They work in over 50 countries within local communities, and implement sustainable beekeeping techniques that use only local bees and local resources. They have an open-access information portal that provides information on bees and beekeeping worldwide. Bees for Development also provides advice and guidance to the World Bank, the United Nations, and other international organizations.
2. BEES for the World, Germany
BEES for the World is dedicated to designing sustainable supply chains for high quality organic-certified bee products all over the world. Their commitment is to Biodiversity, Education, Empowerment, and Sustainability (BEES). They work primarily within African countries to support forest beekeeping. By empowering local communities in the production of high-quality beeswax and connecting them to markets, the group protects local ecosystems while fostering the creation of jobs.
3. Elephant and Bees Project, Kenya
What began as a strategic plan to save the elephants, grew into a conservation project for elephants and bees alike. The Elephant and Bees Project uses beehive fences – a natural deterrent of elephants – to keep elephants off of farmland, reducing crop damage. This not only increases protected habitats for bees, but also helps educate farmers on the relationship between bees and crop health. The project supports increased bee populations and works in multiple countries throughout Africa.
4. Federation of Nepal Beekeepers, Nepal
The Federation of Nepal Beekeepers was established in 1999 to support and empower local beekeepers throughout Nepal. This umbrella organization advocates for national policies that benefit beekeepers, their bees, and their livelihoods. The organization also works to increase the capacity of beekeepers by training and educating farmers on the importance of bees in pollination and pasture management.
5. Honeybee Research Institute, Pakistan
The Honeybee Research Institute promotes beekeeping in Pakistan with the honeybee Apis mellifera. While Apis mellifera honey bees were initially imported from Australia, the species has thrived in Pakistan since the late 1970s. With over 400,000 colonies present today, the bees contribute to increased honey production, income-production for rural populations, and increasing biodiversity. The Institute provides beekeeping training courses, promotes beekeeping for income generation, and has on-going research projects.
6. Pesticide Action Network Europe, Belgium
Founded in 1987, the Pesticide Action Network (PAN Europe) is a network of consumer, public health, and environmental organizations, trades unions, women’s groups, and farmer associations from across Europe. As advocates for a pesticide-free Europe, PAN Europe works closely with government representatives to try to reduce the use of hazardous pesticides. Through their European Citizens’ Initiative, “Save Bees and Farmers”, they are collecting signatures and calling on the European Commission to phase out synthetic pesticides in agriculture by 2035.
7. Pollinator Partnership Canada, Canada
As a leader in pollinator research and habitat improvement for over 20 years, Pollinator Partnership Canada provides and supports various projects that help protect pollinators. They offer a Pollinator Steward Certification program for land managers, communities, and organizations. Pollinator Partnership also successfully advocated for Pollinator Week- inaugurally designated June 22-28, 2020 – in Canada to raise awareness about the importance of pollinators.
8. Purple Hive Project, Australia
Australia is the only continent not yet affected by the Varroa destructor mite, but researchers fear that Australian honey bees may soon be at risk. The Purple Hive Project is on a mission to prevent this mite – which decimates colonies and spreads honey bee viruses – from impacting honey bees in Australia. The Purple Hive uses Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) technology to detect the mite in real-time so that its spread can be prevented. Their long-term goal is to create a network of hives in high-risk locations across Australia.
9. Slovenian Beekeepers Association, Slovenia
The Slovenian Beekeepers Association, originally founded in the late 1800s, offers key beekeeping knowledge and support within the country. The Association advocates and raises awareness on behalf of bees and their importance in the environment, provides beekeeping camps and workshops, and publishes a monthly beekeeping magazine. They are also registered as a research institution, where they develop safe bee products and research ways to protect the Carniolan bee, a type of honey bee indigenous to Slovenia.
10. The Bee Girl Organization, United States
Sarah “Bee Girl” Red-Laird founded The Bee Girl Organization to inspire communities to conserve bees, flowers, and food. The Bee Girl team engages communities across the globe, providing educational classes and resources for regenerative beekeeping. In 2019, Bee Girl partnered with a local vineyard to initiate a Bee Friendly Vineyards pilot program. They planted 1800 square feet of sunflowers on a plot of unused land to attract bees to the area. This year, they are partnering with an additional vineyard to begin an in-depth research and habitat project.
11. The Honeybee Conservancy, United States
The Honeybee Conservancy is dedicated to protecting bees and securing food justice through education, research, habitat creation, and advocacy. Their flagship program, Sponsor-A-Hive, places native bee homes within urban gardens, schools, and organizations that grow produce to bolster local ecosystems. Last year they unveiled an eight-foot-tall rooftop beehive on the Empire State Building, which will house over 70,000 honey bees. Their goal is to place one million bees to support communities of need across the U.S..
12. Under the Mango Tree, India
Under the Mango Tree was founded with the mission to improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in rural India. The organization teaches farmers how to maintain bee boxes on their farms and harvest honey, and connects them to markets to sell their honey. They specifically focus on the indigenous bee, Apis cerana indica, to increase pollination and crop yields. In addition, the organization has trained upwards of 1,000 women to be beekeepers.
13. United Nations Development Program, International
To help achieve the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) partners with local communities in multiple countries to work with smallholder beekeepers and farmers around the world. Through training and resources they help beekeepers earn a decent living and support the health of their communities, while providing a healthy habitat for bees. With help from the UNDP, beekeepers can more easily access markets and improve their livelihoods.
14. Wheen Bee Foundation, Australia
Gretchen Wheen, a pioneer in bee research and one of Australia’s most well known beekeepers, donated her estate to establish the Wheen Bee Foundation upon her passing in 2012. The Foundation promotes awareness of the importance of bees for food security and ecosystem health. It funds research and development projects that seek to improve the health of the local bee population. They are currently working in partnership with other organizations to save the Green Carpenter Bee on Kangaroo Island, as the island recovers from the destructive fires earlier this year.
15. World Bee Project, England
Using cloud computing technology, the World Bee Project created the world’s first globally coordinated honeybee hive monitoring initiative. This Network will provide data that can inform international actions to improve pollinator habitats, food security, and nutrition. With this project, developers hope to deliver findings to smallholder farmers around the world.
Photo Courtesy of Leslie Brooks