We learn in childhood about bees and their role in fertilization. Without bees, we would have no food to eat nor flowers to grace our lives. Because bees are so important to our food supply, and because they are now endangered, the United Nations declared May 20 as bee day, a gesture that was supported by 115 countries, Costa Rica included.
The proposal to call attention to bees and their role in our lifestyle came from an association of beekeepers in Slovenia but it is a critical issue for the whole world. Bees are the only pollinators of plants.
Their busy careers traveling from flower to flower provide us with all our fruit, vegetables and sweeteners. Their absence would leave us dependent on genetically modified food or an extremely limited diet.
Bee populations have been going down as the use of pesticides goes up. Bee colonies are also pushed off the land to make room for human homes, and Africanized bees have scared some people away from raising bees. But it is the pesticides that have done the most damage.
Their busy careers travelling from flower to flower provide us with all our fruit, vegetables and sweetners.
Costa Rica has been hit hard by the loss of bee colonies and honey production. Twenty years ago Costa Rica exported honey.
Today it is imported from Guatemala and El Salvador. Industries like Dos Pinos, bakeries, hospitals and hotels are big buyers of honey. Because it is a pure food, not processed, it is rated as a health food and is used in cough medicines and macrobiotic products. Restaurants are another big market. And we, the people, like to have honey on pancakes and fruit salads.
Costa Rica’s Association of Apículturists (ASOCAPICO) has been active in trying to prohibit those pesticides known to harm bees. Juan Bautista Alvarado, speaking for the association, says that the common use of potent pesticides like neonicotinoids could put and end to bees, and food production here.
Neonicotinoids are used on many food plants to stave off fruit flies and other pests but it is also damaging and killing bees by affecting their nervous systems either killing them or keeping them from returning to their hives. Most of Costa Rica’s honey comes from Guanacaste because the land is mostly in cattle and tourism and there is less use of toxic pesticides.
The association sent a letter to president Carlos Alvarado and the ministries of environment and agriculture urging a ban on neonicotinoids which are used under the names Imidacloprid and Clotianidina by Bayer, and Tiametoxam by Syngenta but the proposal was rejected for now. According to the reply from the government, there is not enough proof that these toxic sprays are killing off bees.
In August the Alvarado and Luis Zamora of Miel Dorado presented a draft of a law to protect bees and other pollinators to deputy Erwen Masís of the Environment Commission asking for recognition of the importance of bees to our food security and measures for their protection. The draft will now go to the Environment Commission for discussion and a vote.
Costa Rica is not alone in the fight to save bees. Environmentalists and farmers have joined campaigns against these products in Europe and other countries.
In January of this year, the European Union banned these same toxins after huge protests by farmers and environmentalists. Canada has recently banned them. In the United States, Maryland and Connecticut have bans on neonicotinoids and the Environmental Protection Agency issues guides on the use of neonicotinoids.
Australian beekeepers and environmentalists are fighting to have them banned. Some countries have restrictions on their use. In New Zealand, for example, most bee farms are in areas away from other cultivation. However, bees need flowering plants for the honey production and beekeepers and environmentalists are campaigning for a prohibition. Migrating Monarch butterflies are also affected by neonicotinoids
Bees and honey can be profitable say Kenneth Morera and Emmanuel Miranda who have 200 hives in the Atenas area and in Guanacaste. There is a big demand for honey commercially and industrially as honey is now used in shampoos, skin creams beauty products and health foods.
They plan to start classes for “garden” beekeepers, for anyone who would like to have a hive or two in the yard.
They claim that bees will make a garden more productive. Apicenter, a honey-producing company since 1947 is experimenting with new honey products by adding flavors mint, lemon, ginger, and cinnamon. (see apicentercr.com)