Since ancient times honey bees have appeared as symbols of good husbandry and storers-away of value in the shape of honey, while supporting mankind’s efforts in fields and orchards.
Only recently has the sheer scale of their contribution become clear with confirmation that fully 10% of the world’s agricultural production value is created by the pollination services that bees supply.
Now, as bees suffer multiple threats worldwide from industrial pollution, disease, aggressive predators and climate change, the value of pollination ecosystem services throughout the world was calculated at US$ 212 billion. This far exceeds to the commercial value of the world’s accumulated honey sales estimated at US$ 1.5 billion (2007 estimate).
The place occupied by bees in the environmental and agricultural “big picture” is detailed in recent studies published by Brazilian expert Prof. Vera Lúcia Imperatriz Fonseca of the University of São Paulo (USP).
These include the recently published Pollinators in Brazil: contribution and prospects for biodiversity, sustainable use, conservation and environmental services), which was awarded a coveted Jabuti Prize in 2013.
The work is the fruit of the FAPESP thematic project “Biodiversity and sustainable use of pollinators, with emphasis on Meliponini bees,” coordinated by Fonseca as part of the Biota-FAPESP Program. You can review a slideshow of Prof Fonseca’s presentation by clicking here.
“Nearly 75% of our food depends directly or indirectly on plants pollinated or improved by animal pollination. Of these, 35% depend solely on pollinators. In the rest of the cases, insects such as bees help to increase the fruit’s quality and yield,” said Prof. Fonseca, who is currently a visiting professor at the Federal Rural University of the Semiarid Region (UFERSA), in the state of Rio Grande do Norte.
Plants and fruits are the principal foods that require insects for pollination (the production of each has an estimated value of € 50 billion). Next are the oilseed crops, stimulants (coffee and tea), almonds and spices. Studies say that, on average, the value of the cultures that do not depend on insect pollination is € 151 billion per year, whereas those that do depend on pollination are valued at € 761 billion.
Prof. Fonseca warns that IPCC predictions for northeastern Brazil of a 4º C increase in temperature over the next 50 years would have strongly negative impact on local bee populations.
As well as semi-cultivated Apis mellifera bees known around the world, Brazil is home to the carpenter bee (Xylocopa), jatai bees (part of the Melipona genus of stingless beesdistributed across Latin America).
You can read a complete article about Brazil’s honey bees and Prof. Fonseca’s work by Brazilian journalist Karina Toledo by clicking here.