“My son, they were all over the place. It was a common sight to see them on vegetation on edges of footpaths from the house through to the farm. Today, however, you will be lucky to count ten along the same stretch”. These were the words of a 70-year-old farmer when quizzed about the status of bee populations, particularly the large ones such as the carpenter bees that used to fly around her crops.
Many people in rural and peri-urban Ghana will attest to the fact that honey bee swarms were common sights some years back and many dreaded the buzzing sound of these insects as large numbers flew above their heads, casting a shadow on the ground. Now the question is “where are these buzzers”?
This article is intended to celebrate “World Bee Day” and highlight the crucial role of bees and other pollinators in food security and biodiversity sustenance.
The celebration of “World Bee Day” on 20th May each year was approved by the UN General Assembly in 2017. The 20th May is to honour Anton Janša, the Slovenian beekeeping pioneer. In celebrating the first World Bee Day in 2018, Jose Graziano da Silva (former FAO Director General) said the day “presents an opportunity to recognize the role of beekeeping, bees and other pollinators in increasing food security, improving nutrition and fighting hunger as well as in providing key ecosystem services for agriculture”.
The objectives of observing World Bee Day worldwide are to:
1. draw the attention of the world’s public and political decision-makers to the importance of protecting bees;
2. remind us that we depend on bees and other pollinators;
3. protect bees and other pollinators, which would significantly contribute to solving problems related to global food supply and eliminate hunger in developing countries; and
4. halt the further loss of biodiversity and degradation of ecosystems, and thereby contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.Pollinators are animal mediators that assist in the transfer of the male part (pollen) to female part (ovary) of the same plant species for fertilization to take place, and subsequently produce fruits and seeds. These fruits and seeds give perpetuity and genetic variation to that plant species. These products also serve as food to diverse animals and important food nutrients of human diet. One cannot talk about foods rich in vitamins and minerals, which are key for our wellbeing, without talking about the role of pollinators.
Pollinators come from diverse animal groups (insects, birds, rodents, reptiles etc.) but insects form the greatest proportion. Among the insects, bees are the most dominant in terms of diversity of plants pollinated. This does not in any way discount the other pollinators, because a particular species or group of plants are pollinated by specific insects which may not necessarily be bees. For example, the main pollinator of cocoa is the ceratopogonid midges, which are flies. Cocoa yields can decline by about 90% in complete absence of these ceratopogonid midges and in Ghana, this will have grave impact on the economy.Bees form about 63% of all pollinators and contribute to the pollination of about 90% of leading global crop types including cashew, mango, coffee, avocado, coconut, watermelon, tomato and eggplant among a lot.There are several types of bees which may be grouped based on their size (small, medium or large), where they nest (trees, ground or mud nest), stinging ability (stinging or stingless) or social behaviour (social or solitary). In addition to pollination, some are noted for production of honey, whose taste, composition and quantity are unique to the various species.
Sadly, there is a global decline in bee and other pollinator populations thereby affecting crop production, sustenance of wild plants and genetic variability in plants in general. Major drivers of this decline are excessive use of insecticides, habitat loss (including logging, sand weaning and “Galamsey”), wild fires, improper wild honey hunting and diseases in managed bees.
One disturbing activity in the local setting is the use of insecticides on surfaces of dug-outs in felled palm trees during palm wine tapping. There is therefore the need to protect bees and other pollinators.
A number of institutes of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research such as the CSIR-Crops Research Institute, CSIR-Forestry Research Institute of Ghana, CSIR-Oil Palm Research Institute and CSIR-Savanna Agricultural Research Institute) are actively involved in research, management and advocacy for conservation of bees and other pollinators across diverse landscapes. The University of Cape Coast, which hosts one of the best bee museums in Africa, and International Stingless Bee Center at Abrafo near Kakum National Park are greatly contributing to the course of bees and pollinators in Ghana.