Save the bees

Provence & Côte d’Azur: PACA honey production fell by 40% in 2013 as a third of bees disappear each year

Thousands of bee hives collapse each year in France alone due to habitat loss
Thousands of bee hives collapse each year in France alone due to habitat loss

Côte d’Azur bee keepers are in fear for their livelihood as bee populations continue to dwindle. The European parliament held an annual meeting to discuss the insect’s survival as the stakes go far beyond honey; one third of all crop production depends on bee pollination.

The Var is the largest honey-producing department in France. Figures show that, in a major setback for farmers, honey production has fallen by an incredble 40% over the years 2012 and 2013.

“After two years of low production, it is imperative that bee keepers return to normal production levels. Bee keeper’s viability depends on it,” Philippe Picard of the Provencal bee keeping development association (ADAPI) told The Riviera Times.

But honey may only be the tip of the iceberg: not only do bees have an essential role in the ecosystem, they are responsible for pollinating one third of the world’s crop production, according to a 2007 study published by the Royal Society.

The decrease in bee populations has reached an alarming rate in recent years with a loss of 30% of worker bees each year – reaching up to 50% in some areas – in Europe and America.

“If they disappear, this would be a disaster for bio-diversity”

Though the problem has only made its way to the headlines since 2007, Marla Spivak, bee expert and professor at the university of Minnesota, explained at a TED conference in 2013 that global hive populations have actually been decreasing since the end of World War II, with the advent of modern agricultural methods.

The European parliament in Brussels has hosted its third annual week of bees and pollination, organised by Gaston Franco, European MP from the Alpes Maritimes.

The event was aimed at informing policy makers and stakeholders of the on-going population collapse of bees. Dedicated environmentalist Prince Albert II of Monaco made a presentation in Brussels, saying: “If they disappear, this would be a disaster for bio-diversity.”

While the causes of the collapsing bee population are multiple and varied, experts say climate change is part of the problem, with longer periods of drought as well as more rain.

“Too much humidity is harmful, so is too much heat,” says Picard. “There needs to be a balance between the two.”

Modern industrial techniques are also to blame. Farming practices have shifted from clover – which is a natural fertiliser and bee-friendly flower – to artificial fertilisers and an increased use of pesticides and herbicides.

Early tests of the chemichals by organisations such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the United States concluded they were not lethal to bees. But more recent data suggests they affect the insects on a sub-lethal level, making them more susceptible to diseases and parasites as well as habitat loss, where they become disoriented and unable to return to their hive.

“Some uncertainties have been identified since [the chemical’s] registration regarding the potential environmental fate and effects of neonicotinoid pesticides, particularly as they relate to pollinators.”

“We’ve been saying for a while that the impact of some pesticides, specifically neonicotinoids, hasn’t been properly assessed,” said Pascal Jourdan, president of ADAPI.

The European Union instated a temporary ban on neonicotinoids in 2013. According to experts, it is just one in a number of causes that need to be addressed if the bee population decline is to be reversed.

Also published on the Riviera Times Online