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World Bee Day 2020: FAO calls for more to be done to safeguard our tiny food heroes, amid alarming decline

Protecting bees and beekeepers crucial in times of COVID-19 to support livelihoods

20 May 2020, Rome - By cherishing bees and other pollinators, not only do we safeguard the environment and create a sustainable ecosystem, but also support the livelihoods of rural and indigenous peoples which is particularly critical in extraordinary times like the current COVID -19 pandemic.

This was the key take-away from the virtual celebration of World Bee Day 2020, organized by FAO in partnership with the government of Slovenia - which spear-headed the creation of the Day by the UN General Assembly in 2017, the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS), and Apimondia -  the International Federation of Beekeepers' Associations 

"Beekeeping delivers significant social, economic and environmental benefits," said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu. "It can be carried out with locally available materials and limited resources."   Beekeeping could provide a safety net, particularly to the landless, women, youth and the disabled, enabling them to produce some of their own food and enhancing their resilience, he added. Honey can also be safely stored for long periods.

Aleksandra Pivec, Slovenia's Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Food, who took part in the virtual event, said: "This year the COVID -19 pandemic crossed our paths but it also made us aware of how important safe, stable and sustainable food chains and systems are for people and the planet and for which bees and other pollinators are vital".

"Bee engaged - the theme of this year's celebration - is important as it encourages and urges us to turn our words into action," she added.

The virtual celebration also heard from Tang Huajun, President of Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS); Jeff Pettis, President, Apimondia; Max Rünzel, Project Coordinator, World Bee Count; Joseph Cazier, Director of the Center for Analytics Research and Education, Appalachian State University; Dr. Nicola Bradbear, Founder of Bees for Development and President of Apimondia's Scientific Commission for Beekeeping for Rural Development; Pradeep Mehta, Honorary Chairman, Central Himalayan Institute for Nature Carlos H. Vergara B., Senior Proffessor, Universidad de las Américas Puebla, Mexico; and Maria Helena Semedo, FAO Deputy Director-General.

COVID-19's impact on beekeeping sector

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a drastic impact on the beekeeping sector and the livelihoods of beekeepers. Being a labour-intensive sector, it suffers from the transport and movement restrictions imposed by the governments in response to the pandemic spread.

The panelists encouraged governments to support beekeeping sector since it offers decent working opportunities and income generation to people in extreme poverty.  It is important to recognize bees' crucial role in fighting poverty and malnutrition, and help beekeepers overcome the challenges they encounter in the time of pandemic, they stressed.

Bee engaged

The panelists highlighted the vital contribution of bees and beekeepers to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), supporting rural livelihoods, improving food security and nutrition as we as boosting rural economies. In fact, three out of four crops across the globe producing fruits or seeds for human consumption depend, at least in part, on bees and other pollinators.

Moreover, pollination has a positive impact on the environment in general, helping to maintain biodiversity and the vibrant ecosystems upon which agriculture and humanity depend. Therefore, safeguarding bees can also help to halt the further loss of biodiversity and degradation of ecosystems.

Yet bees and other pollinators are declining in alarming numbers due to intensive farming practices, habitat loss, excessive use of chemicals and higher temperatures associated with climate change. This compromises our vital ecosystems and productivity.

To reverse the trend, the panelists pointed to the importance of science and data-collection to monitor and assess what is happening to bees and pollinators and thereby enabling informed decisions. They also highlighted the importance of preserving traditional knowledge in apiculture for future generations. 

FAO has been working on promoting an ecosystems approach to ensure conservation and sustainable use of resources including bees and pollinators. It is a facilitator of the International Pollinator Initiative

Photo: ©FAO/
A wide variety of plants critical to human well-being and livelihoods require pollinators.