By Opija Raduk

Different factors across the globe are driving bees and other pollinators to extinction therefore threatening food supply, a recent study conducted by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) reveals.

Bees and other pollinators such as birds and bats, affect 35 percent of the world’s crop production, increasing outputs of 87 of the leading food crops worldwide, plus many plant-derived medicines.

“Bees are under great threat from the combined effects of climate change, intensive agriculture, pesticides use, biodiversity loss and pollution,” says FAO’s Director-General José Graziano da Silva.

“The absence of bees and other pollinators would wipe out coffee, apples, almonds, tomatoes and cocoa to name just a few of the crops that rely on pollination. Countries need to shift to more pollinator-friendly and sustainable food policies and systems.”

A bee collecting pollen and nectar sits on a Eucalyptus flower at Chesa Forest Research Station in
Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.
Photo credits: FAO

As pollinators, bees play a part in every aspect of the ecosystem. They support the growth of trees, flowers and other plants, which serve as food and shelter for creatures large and small. Bees contribute to complex, interconnected ecosystems that allow a diverse number of different species to co-exist.

FAO says the importance of bees in the lives of humans is always underestimated. This is the reason why people are not doing enough to protect the insects.

No single factor can be blamed for the overall global decline in bee populations, or in their overall health. This decline is undoubtedly the product of multiple factors, both known and unknown, acting singly or in combination.

Nonetheless, the most important factors affecting pollinator health relate to diseases and parasites, and to wider industrial agricultural practices that affect many aspects of a bee’s life cycle. Underlying all the other factors, climate change is also putting increased strains on pollinator health. Some pesticides pose direct risk to pollinators.

Bees, managed or wild, cannot escape the various and massive impacts of industrial agriculture: they suffer simultaneously from the destruction of natural habitats caused by agriculture, and, because bees’natural ranges inevitably overlap with industrial farming landscapes, the harmful effects of intensive agricultural practices.

Fragmentation of natural and semi-natural habitats, expansion of monocultures and lack of diversity all play a role. Destructive practices that limit bee-nesting ability, and the spraying of herbicides and pesticides, make industrial agriculture one of the major threats to pollinator communities globally.

About two-thirds of the crop plants that feed the world rely on pollination by insects or other animals to produce healthy fruits and seeds for human consumption. Pollination benefits human nutrition – enabling not only the production of an abundance of fruits, nuts and seeds, but also more variety and better quality.

According to United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), there are close to 20 000 species of bees in the world and nearly 17 percent of this face eminent extinction. Kenya holds 1000 species of bees and in any given landscape there could be more than 100 types of bees.

In Kenya, foods such as coffee, onions, potatoes, carrots, bananas, yams, passion fruit, cassava, nuts and beans depend on bees to reproduce.

FAO’s recent State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture report also stresses that many species, associated with biodiversity, including bees, are under severe threat, and calls on governments and the international community to do more to address the core drivers of biodiversity loss. Contact: