Bees and their sustainable development

Sustainable Development Goal 15 proposes to protect, restore and improve the natural ecosystem. Safeguarding the ecosystems is in fact fundamental for a resistant and productive agriculture and to reduce poverty. 

The bees and other pollinating insects play in this process a fundamental role. Mostly known for their industriousness and for the production of honey, bees carry out a task that is vital for the planet: one third of our food depends in fact from their pollinating work, and they therefore represent excellent bio-indicators. If these insects were to disappear the consequences on food production would be devastating; who would pollinate crops? Even though an artificial method exists, it is a very slow and, above all, costly practice: suffice to say that the value of this service, offered for free by the bees of the world, has been estimated to be around 265 billion euro per year. 

Bees pollination is a fundamental service for the ecosystem, without it we would lose biodiversity, jeopardizing food security and the variety of local food that we eat every day. Pollination, process that mobilizes male gametes (pollen) for it to reach female gametes, is at the basis of vegetable biodiversity. Some species can use passive self-pollination, it is a mechanism not widely spread though typical of species that are important for man, such as wheat and soy. More spread is the so-called cross-pollination: pollen passes from one plant to the other transported by a carrier, that can be water, wind or animals. Bees are the most relevant pollinators, to the point that they are considered the keystone of the ecosystems, both natural and agricultural. Pollination through water (hydrophilic) is not very common, and mostly typical of certain aquatic plants such as Elodea. Pollination through wind is typical of the gymnosperms, as well as of some angiosperms such as chestnut tree and corn. Pollination through animals (zoophilic) is in fact the most common among angiosperms, with insects occupying with most success the ecological niche of pollinators. Approximately 75% of them comprises of bees' species, of which there are approximately 15 thousands species in the world. One of them is the domestic or honey bee (Apis mellifera), honey producer, whereas the others are collectively known as "wild bees". In zoological terms, bees are insects of the order Hymenoptera and to the superfamily Apoidea. Among them, the most famous bee after the honey bee is the bumblebee (Bombus), a bee of which there are 266 different species, of which 43 in Italy, almost all organized in colonies and caste. Many bees though are solitary, such as those of the genres Osmia, Antophora, Halictus, Xylocopa.

Of course, pollination is not only done by bees. Effective pollinators are the diptera (flies, especially those of the large family of hoverflies) and secondly the lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), followed by some families of beetles. Pollination due to birds, reptiles and bats is finally considered a minority.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimates that bees contribute to the survival of 80% of global plant species. Through pollination, they provide an ecosystem service estimated at EUR 22 billion per year in Europe and EUR 153 billion per year worldwide. Their plant biodiversity also has a significant impact on our diet. In terms of global agricultural production volumes, about one third of human food (35%) comes from crops that depend on pollinating animals. In fact, 70% of the 124 main crops grown for global human consumption, both for seed production and for product quality and yields, need insects.

Since the late 1990s, many beekeepers (especially in Europe and North America) have begun to report an abnormal and sudden decline in bee colonies. This decline is undoubtedly the product of multiple factors, acting individually or in combination. Among the most important are the use of pesticides, loss of natural habitats, diseases and pests and climate change.

In 2002, the Almond Board of California reported a drastic decline in California's bee-dependent almond production. Within a few years, in order to save the harvest, the state had to import colonies of domestic bees from Australia and the U.S. government decided to allocate $89 million (Pollinator Act) to solve the problem. Found numerous other evidence of bee deaths, in 2007 a new term began to be adopted by the scientific community: Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a syndrome with unknown causes. Until recently, the debate focused only on the decline of the domestic bee, the most observable species as far as it is bred. In 2014 the Red List of bees for Europe was published, listing all the species of the continent and their level of vulnerability according to the latest scientific evidence. The list lists 1,965 different species of bees. 9.2% of them are directly threatened with extinction and a further 5.2% are close to becoming extinct. These already worrying data could be underestimated: for more than half of European bee species (56.7%) there is not enough information.

It is believed that the decline of domestic and wild bees has a multiplicity of causes, varying from place to place. Factors range from pollution to poor environmental biodiversity due to the use of monocultures in agriculture - which eliminates food sources for insects - to urban development and climate change that can affect flower development or the presence of viruses, bacteria and other bee pathogens. The invasion of exotic species, such as the Asian bumblebee (Vespa velutina), which recently arrived in Europe and Italy and feeds on domestic bees, has also played a role. The use of pesticides, synthesized to kill insects that are harmful to agriculture but which also act on useful ones, is also fundamental. The chronicle and beekeeping associations have often put neonicotinoid pesticides in the dock, which can produce effects on the cognitive abilities of bees even at sub-lethal doses, i.e. lower than the concentrations that kill insects. The three pesticides that have just been banned belong to this class.

The health of bees depends on the conservation of natural ecosystems. Their protection is therefore implicit in a series of international conventions such as the Bern Convention of 1979 (conservation of biotopes) or the Biodiversity Convention of 1992 which generated local strategies such as the EU biodiversity strategy. More specific documents on pollinator protection have recently started to be produced: in 2012 the IPBES, an intergovernmental structure based in Bonn dedicated to biodiversity, was founded to produce pollination reports. In December 2016 during the Conference of the Parties for Biodiversity (COP 13 in Cancun, Mexico) ten EU countries and other states signed the Declaration on the Coalition of the Willing on Pollinators, in which Italy did not participate. The following year the European Commission published a roadmap defining the objectives of the so-called EU Pollinators Initiative. In this context, the Institute for European Environmental Policy has just published the strategies adopted locally by the European countries that signed the Coalition of the Willing.


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  • L'Autore

    Valeriana Savino


    Valeriana Savino è una giovane studentessa di 24 anni. Nata e cresciuta in Puglia. È laureata in Scienze Politiche, Relazioni Internazionali e Studi Europei presso l’Università degli Studi di Bari “Aldo Moro”.

    Attualmente frequenta il corso di laurea magistrale in Scienze delle Amministrazioni. Ritiene fortemente che il primo cambiamento necessario per il prossimo futuro sia dare un contributo attivo alla gestione dei servizi pubblici e privati.

    Ha collaborato per tre anni con l’associazione “Giovani nel Mondo” alla promozione del festival delle carriere internazionali. La promozione consisteva nell’organizzare incontri sia in italiano sia in inglese con gli studenti, conferenze con ospiti nazionali e internazionali e fornire informazioni sul festival.

    Da agosto 2019 collabora con l’associazione “Mondo Internazionale”. È autrice nell’area tematica “Diritti Umani” ed “Europa” nell’ambito di Mondo Internazionale Academy. Da novembre 2020 collabora come Policy Analist nell’analisi, ricerca e redazione di politiche pubbliche portate avanti da Mondo Internazionale Hub all’interno di MIPP, l’Incubatore di Politiche Pubbliche.

    È appassionata di diritti umani e di questioni relative all’Europa e non solo. Ascolta podcast per essere sempre aggiornata sul mondo attuale e nel tempo libero leggo libri e guardo serie TV.

    Ama viaggiare, scoprire nuove realtà e mettersi sempre alla prova.


    Valeriana Savino is a young 24 years old. She is born and raised in Puglia. She has a BA in Political Science, International Relations and European Studies at the University of Bari "Aldo Moro".

    She is currently attending the master's degree in Administration Sciences. She strongly believes that the first necessary change for the near future is to make an active contribution to the management of public and private services.

    She collaborated for three years with the "Giovani nel Mondo" association to promote the internationale career festival. The promotion consisted of organizing meetings both in Italian and in English with students, conferences with national and international guests and providing information on the festival.

    Since August 2019 she has been collaborating with the "Mondo Internazionale" association. She is an author in the thematic area "Human Rights" and "Europe" within the Mondo Internazionale Academy. Since November 2020 she has been collaborating as a Policy Analist in the analysis, research and drafting of public policies carried out by Mondo Internazionale Hub within MIPP, the Public Policy Incubator.

    She is passionate about human rights and issues relating to Europe and beyond. She listens to podcasts to keep up to date on the current world and in free time she reads books and watch TV series.

    She loves to travel, discover new realities and always test herself.


Sections Environment & Development 2030 Agenda Life on land


#bee #biodiversità #agricoltura #cambiamenticlimatici #goals #obiettivo15 #vitasullaterra #impollinazione #information #mondointernazionale #communication

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