Needs of bees, beekeepers & apitherapists
From the description of threats to bees, we can see that the most severe problems are connected to intensive agriculture, where large monocultures offer a poor diet for bees and are most often sprayed with harmful chemicals. Additionally, and most extreme in North America, the pollination needs of some large agricultural monocultures forces a migratory lifestyle on bees, which promotes the spread of pathogens and parasites and weakens the transported colonies (1). In this context and since honeybees provide us with so many services, it is imperative to clearly identify what bees, beekeepers, and apitherapists urgently need to continue their journey together in a healthy way and then to develop a plan to fulfill these needs. But first we should be clear about the fact that harmful agricultural practices and other human activities do not only lead to the decline of bee populations but to a general loss of biodiversity including other animals and plants. They also play an important part in the degradation of our soils and water resources and threaten people’s health. Hence, finding solutions is crucial for everyone.
First, the needs of bees and beekeepers are relatively similar and the most obvious one given the threats they are facing is for a cleaner and more resilient environment, i.e. a diverse landscape with minimum pollution. Within such landscapes, bees should further have access to diverse and abundant sources of high-quality nectar, pollen, and balsam throughout their active season (2). It has been estimated that at least 3 melliferous plant species (though more would be better) should be flowering at any given time and that this feature should be encouraged in private and public urban areas as well as in agricultural areas (3). The latter is of special importance due to its large proportion in the landscape. Hence, it is crucial to promote organically grown main crops where beekeepers would bring their bees to pollinate anyway and in combination with plots of land with non-crop vegetation that bring diversity and constant sources of food, especially on erodible terrain (3).
The needs of apitherapists also go hand in hand with those of bees. For bee products to be well-suited for therapeutical use, apitherapists need high-quality products, i.e. free of any contaminants and having high contents of bioactive compounds like polyphenols or flavonoids, which are active medicinal substances for us as well as for the bees (4). Indeed, if bee products are free of contaminants and high in bioactive compounds, the hive is healthier and more resilient to diseases and parasites. Apitherapists may also need the production of particular medicinal products such as thyme honey which appear to be particularly good for wound healing, or the pollen from Rock Roses which contains a particularly high concentration in polyphenols.
In summary, we need to promote and create systems that are much more life-supporting and sustainable, which includes more extensive agriculture, no chemical fertilisation or pesticides, no pollution and a highly diverse flowering landscape instead of monocultures. Importantly, these life-supporting systems – either natural, agricultural, or ornamental – need to be applied on a large scale in order to generally improve the landscape and not only create some isolated islands of “better environment”. For that we need of course a better collaboration between farmers and beekeepers (2), but we also need the participation of everyone and to raise the general consciousness for the need of changing our ways.
This may seem like a big order, and it is, but fortunately all the necessary knowledge and techniques to achieve this goal already exist, are plenty, and result in a healthier and wealthier living for honeybees and for people. And let us not forget that a better environment for honeybees and people also means a better environment for many other wild insects playing a major role on this Earth as well as for countless other animals and plants; indeed our health and quality of life are intimately intertwined among us all. These techniques and knowledge we are talking about can be assembled within one broad framework: permaculture (5).
Kluser et al. 2010. UNEP 2010 - UNEP Emerging Issues: Global Honey Bee Colony Disorder and Other Threats to Insect Pollinators.
Haubruge et al. 2006. Le dépérissement de l’abeille domestique, Apis mellifera L., 1758 (Hymenoptera : Apidae) : faits et causes probables. Notes fauniques de Gembloux 59: 3-21.
Spivak et al. 2011. The plight of the bees. Environmental Science & Technology 45: 34-38.
Stângaciu et al. 2015. Quality Parameters Needed for Bee Products used in Apitherapy. Bulletin UASVM Animal Science and Biotechnologies, 72: 66-71.
Bill Mollison. 1988. Permaculture: A designers' manual. Tagari Publications, Sisters Creek, Australia. 601 pp.