The Importance of Bees

Django Coffee: The Importance of Bees

The humble bee plays a very significant role in pollinating the world’s plants and in the sustainability of our global ecosystem. Bees are an important pollinator of food crops, crucial to the survival of the human species. It is estimated that 84% of crops grown for human consumption require pollination [1]  and that a third of the food we consume would not be available if it were not for the  bee. [2] They are not just essential to the crops that we grow to eat but also to those that are used to feed cattle in both the dairy and meat industries. As well as being part of the food chain themselves, bees sustain the food cycle making an invaluable contribution to ecosystems around the world. The seeds, fruits and berries eaten by birds and small mammals all come from plants that have been pollinated by bees and are therefore key players in the biodiversity of our species. [1] The products created, such as honey, pollen and wax, all have nutritional, manufacturing and medical importance. [3] The British Bee Keepers Association estimate that honey bees made a significant contribution to the £200 million that was generated for the UK economy in 2009 from commercially grown, insect pollinated crops. Bee populations in the UK are in decline due to loss of habitats and certain farming practises, however within the coffee industry methods of cultivation are being developed to improve and increase the influx of bees due to their important role in the production of coffee.

Coffee growing regions are excellent sites for honey bees due to the plant diversity and perfect floral resources. Both the Arabica and Robusta varieties have been shown to yield an increase in quality and quantity after pollination by bees. [4] Coffee farmers encourage bees because cross pollination of the coffee plants improves the ripening, size and uniformity of the coffee beans. [5] This in turn increases coffee yields as  a greater amount of pollen is added to the stigma of each plant and this leads to greater diversity. [6] This process is very beneficial to the farmers as they can increase their coffee production without having to expand their farm. There is usually only a three to four day period when the coffee flower opens up during blooming and is ready for pollination to take place. Therefore coffee farmers do everything they can to make sure there are plenty of bees available. For this reason many farmers have researched alternative farming methods such as artificial irrigation to guarantee a healthy population of bees. For example, instead of depending on the unpredictable pattern of rainfall, farmers irrigate their farms artificially at different times to that of other local coffee farms and this attracts a greater concentration of bees. [7] Retaining the bees natural habitats close to the coffee farms also encourages this increase in bee populations. Natural trees are retained in close proximity of the coffee farms or new trees are planted. This  helps not only the bees but the farmers and  the environment. A study on the Costa Rican coffee farm, Finca Santa Fe,  showed that after cross pollination, there was a dramatic increase of 20% in  coffee yields which led to an income rise of 7%. This equated to an extra $60,000 a year from a 35 hectare farm. [8] This helps protect of the rainforest and halts deforestation which is damaging the environment and bees habitat. Costa Rica’s innovative Payments for Environmental Services scheme pays landowners $42 a year for each hectare of forest that they conserve [8] which is a good way to reward a landowner for not clearing the trees on his land. 

Keeping bees helps to improve coffee yields but it also can provide a second income for coffee farmers. By acquiring bee hives and locating them on their plantations, the honey yield can be sold both locally and internationally. The hives do not require a huge amount of investment of money or time and are relatively simple to keep. As bees are not susceptible to the negative impacts of climate change or seasonal changes they can thrive anywhere so therefore making the production of honey more sustainable than the production of coffee and therefore keeping the prices more stable. [5] In Malawi the Mzuzu Coffee Planters Co-operation have provided their coffee farmers with 3000 coffee seedlings and 10 bee hives. Bernard Kaunda the production manager at Mzuzu explains that the income from coffee alone is not always enough and payments are only received once a year and even then are sometimes infrequent and late. Honey is collected twice a year and payments are more regular. He also explains that there is good labour compatibility between coffee and honey and so supplementing coffee production with honey was a perfect combination. [9]

In conclusion, it seems that the more bees the better both in relation to the health of the coffee industry and to the planet and our ecosystems. Bees not only play an important role in our food production and food chain but are also able to increase the quality and quantity of coffee on farms around the world. They not only benefit a coffee farmers income but they contribute to reducing deforestation in coffee growing areas because of the reluctance to cut down the habitat of the insects which help in the production of coffee. If you want to find out more about these incredible insects click on the links below which will provide some more information about the importance of bees.