China’s problem with pollination – not so much a Chinese issue

Par ailleurs, dans les champs, les cultivateurs utilisent largement les produits phytosanitaires pour éliminer les insectes qui menacent leurs fruits.Written by Bianca Thiglia

While I was in China for my bachelor exchange, wondering around in Ningbo -the south-east city I was placed in, pretty close to Shanghai- I kept on meeting people immersed in the bushes surrounding my university.

They looked very focused in something they were doing there, deep into the green, scrutinizing each brunch while holding a cigarette-like tool. 
I wasn’t speaking any Chinese and most probably they weren’t speaking any English so my curiosity was at its limits when I finally met a friend that seemed to know what was going on. Of course they were pollinating the plants.
I had heard about the risks implied by running out of bees but it all seemed so distant back then, seeing it as a speculation about future scenarios. That semester I was abruptly called to face the reality of the fact, in a place where –I soon discovered- artificial pollination was the only way.

My mother warned me not to buy honey while I was in China, she “red it was fake”. However silly it might sound, I suddenly realized that she might have been right so, the next time I was at the supermarket with a Chinese friend, I asked to translate the ingredients of one of the many jars of honey crowded on the shelves. The answer was that they were impossible to translate, too many chemicals. 
In the region I was in, as in many others in the country, there were no more bees. To keep on having plants around, but also most of theirs crops and fruits, Chinese people are being forced to find a substitute to bees. 

But this is not only a problem for China, as the leading causes of such a fact are undermining bees population in most of industrialized countries, including the US and EU members. 
Bees are insects, so vulnerable to pesticides (that are supposed to kill insects) and fertilizers that we spread all over our fields. This, together with the lack of food and diseases, make these pollinators incredibly vulnerable.
But, as much as pesticides, lack of food and diseases are not natural phenomena but artificial. 
Monocropping and generally the massive conversion of land into fields (deforestation as to mention a practice) led to the predominant spread of crops. Crops usually bloom 2 to 3 weeks a year but, as bees feed on flowers, what could they eat for the rest of the year?
As for diseases, we accidentally provoked the circulation and diffusion of parasites from foreign regions, something bees cannot cope with. 

So to sum up, bees have been eradicates in Southern China and Brazil is following, as many other countries, because we foster an overly intensive agricultural model and our consumption is out of control. It is also worth considering that 75% of the crop we feed on requires pollination for growing, be it from insects, birds or even bats. Industrial farming is disrupting their habitats, drastically diminishing biodiversity and accelerating processes such as desertification or soil erosion. 

The loss of diversity also creates a vicious circle, causing a decrease in predators that are no more able to control pests and insects population thus making pesticides more needed. And as the varieties of plantation that require pollination are abandoned, diversity further drops. Variety is also fostered by small producers as alternatives to intensive monoplantations that are taking over.

So now we see people going deep into the frons, equipped with pollen pots, brushes and filters in an attempt to do nature’s work. By brushing each flower, there is the possibility to create the condition for it to become a fruit but humans seems to be pretty goofy at it while bees, backed by 120 million years of practice, would still able to do it masterfully. 
This practice may also be unsustainable in countries where labour costs are higher and, trying not to be too dramatic, children are actually been employed in some areas of China as they are better able to reach higher brunches. 
But here is the solution part.
Leaving wild flowers areas around our fields and farms, in our gardens, around the streets would provide some more food for bees. Everyone can plant flowers.
Leaving natural vegetation in the forms of forests would also boost pollinators’ population and imply an incredible amount of other ecological and biological advantages. 
Reducing food waste (amounting to a third of the whole food production) and animal products consumption is another option, as livestock requires way more feed that a human’s plant based diet, all feed that need to be planted.

Another impactful tool, as each of us is inevitably a consumer, is claiming and purchasing food that is produced without the use of pesticides. Organic fits the purpose but a certification is not the only way (simply because certain small organic producers cannot afford to have it). It may be worth mentioning what recently happened in Germany. Bayer has been prevented from diffusing its agricultural product containing clothianidin, a chemical that unexpectedly caused a decline in bees’ population. Moreover, 100000 beekeepers are calling for a nationwide ban on the growing of GMO crops. Regional measures are already in place but the beekeepers brought to the public’s attention that bees have no borders, travelling remarkable distances to collect nectar. 

A sustainable way of growing food might be the only way by which we can keep on growing food.

References: Image rights belonging to Gilles Sabrié