Ama Kudom-Agyemang’s thoughts ….The honey, bees and threatened ecosystem service valued at US$353.6bn annually


Certainly, you must love the taste of real and natural honey squeezed directly from a bee-hive. Right! Then, you’re among the everybodies who are crazy about honey – except the few ones allergic to it. And whether it is splashed on a slice of bread, spread on pancake, added to a cup of tea, or taken with lemon juice as a homemade recipe to clear one’s throat, nothing can compare with the terrific sweetness of natural honey.

However, while most people are aware that honey is the product of hard-working bees, most of them are unaware that bees depend on the existence of different varieties of healthy plants to make honey. So, aside from its sweetness, antioxidant and immune-boosting properties, honey is a direct by-product of an ecosystem service rendered by bees.

Like birds, bats, flies, butterflies, moths and beetles, bees are responsible for pollinating flowers. Pollination is simply a process in which pollen grains from the male portion of a flower (anther) are transferred to the female part in the flower (stigma). Known as pollinators, bees and others render the ecosystem service of pollination – highly necessary to fertilise flowers in order to produce fruit, vegetables and seeds.

Pollination is very critical for food production and for spreading the genetic material of plants. “Almost one-third of global production from the world’s major food crops depend on pollination, an ecosystem service valued at US$353.6billion annually,” says Prof. Peter Kwapong, of the Department of Conservation Biology and Entomology, School of Biological Sciences, College of Agricultural Natural Sciences, University of Cape Coast.

In a telephone interview, he described pollination as a basic ecosystem service that is crucial for agricultural production, and in promotion of broader diversity for ecosystems. Prof. Kwapong lamented the ongoing destruction of pollinators, saying: “The ecosystem service of pollination is currently under threat, due to the loss of bees and other pollinators caused by degraded habitats”.

His concerns are in line with the aims of recent global celebrations for the International Day for Biological Diversity and World Bee Day on May 22nd and 20th respectively. Like other Days that came after the declaration of COVID-19 as a pandemic, these two were virtually celebrated by the responsible agencies – The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

The celebration of these two Days have established biodiversity as delivering crucial services to man – from producing food to mitigating extreme weather, controlling pests, reducing the impact of disasters and keeping water clean, as well as providing medicines. They also underscore the need to strengthen efforts to arrest the decline of biodiversity and introduce measures to restore its integrity.

Prof. Kwapong emphasized: “In order to ensure that food production is increased to meet growing demands, it is important for food-producing ecosystems to be protected and degraded ecosystems restored,” adding: “The required expansion in agricultural production cannot follow a business-as-usual scenario and still be sustainable”.

His options for ecosystems-restoration in our part of the world include: “a greater appreciation of the value that pollinators add to food security; ownership of Africa’s research agenda; and investment in bee research to enhance the growth of the pollination industry in Africa”. He further called for greater collaboration between policymakers and researchers to provide evidence and practical options which protect and restore natural areas that provide critical habitats and foraging ecosystems for pollinators. Prof. Kwapong stressed: “These efforts must be backed up by enforcement of regulations on bee-keeping and environmental health”.

His concerns and suggestions were re-echoed by Dr. Daniel Ashie Kotey of the Plants Genetic Resources Research Institute (PGRRI) of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) at Bunso, Eastern Region. He pointed out that due to ignorance of their value in enhancing crop yields and sustaining food systems, pollinators are being killed and destroyed through the use of insecticides among other things.

Dr. Kotey said to address this problem, PGRRI’s Team is educating farmers on how to utilise ecosystem service providers to their advantage. ‘For instance, we’re teaching them how to differentiate pests from non-pests including pollinators and predators.”

Ghanaian cocoa farmers are also being taught how to do artificial pollination under the Hand Pollination Piloting Programme introduced by COCOBOD in collaboration with Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG).

Artificial pollination happens when man intervenes with the natural pollination process, which is the function of natural pollinators like bees. Artificial pollination has become necessary in Ghana’s cocoa cultivation, because of the declined population of the ‘midge fly’ – which cocoa farmers have named ‘cocoa kunu’ and is responsible for cocoa pollination.

World Bee Day 2020 served as a reminder that all humans depend on pollinators; therefore, it is crucial to monitor their decline and halt the loss of biodiversity. The celebration’s focus was a call on all to ‘Bee Engaged’ in strengthening measures for protecting bees and other pollinators, and thereby contribute to solving problems related to the global food supply and eliminate hunger, especially in developing countries.

The World Bee Day on May 20th is one of the recent international Days instituted by the UN General Assembly in December 2017 to mark the birth anniversary of Anton Janson, the founder of bee-keeping.

This year’s International Biodiversity Day is on the theme ‘Our Solutions are in Nature’, and shows that biodiversity remains the answer to a number of sustainable development challenges – such as climate change, food and water security, and sustainable livelihoods – that the world is facing.

As part of the celebration in Ghana, the CSO Platform on SDGs Ghana – Sub-Platform SDG 15, issued a statement calling on Ghanaians to “reflect on how we interact with the natural environment and plan for a sustainable future that prioritises the well-being of nature and of every Ghanaian”.

The statement noted that current attempts by government to turn critical biological hotspots like the Atewa Range Forest Reserve into a bauxite mine is inimical to the nation’s commitments to the Sustainable Development Goals. It said this agenda also “derails all efforts locally and globally to secure the wellbeing of our natural environment as a guarantee for our wellbeing”.

The statement further touched on the limited nature of the legal frameworks that support efforts by state and non-state actors in the protection of the country’s natural areas. It called for passage of the Wildlife Resource Management bill that has been pending for 16 years, and which if passed will among other benefits empower communities to participate in and benefit from the management of natural resources in community lands.

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