Launched in 2012, the European Week of Bees and Pollination takes place annually at the European Parliament, bringing together representatives of the European and national institutions, beekeepers, farmers, animal health specialists, scientists, NGOs and the industry. Through discussions and other interactive activities, participants can exchange views, discuss recent developments related to bee health and the beekeeping sector across the continent and urge policy-makers to address specific problems.
Entitled Bees and Biodiversity: new cooperations, the sixth edition of the European Week of Bees and Pollination took place at the European Parliament in Brussels on the 26-28th June 2017. The program included the following events and activities: a scientific symposium (26 June in the Solvay Library), a Beekeepers and Farmers Forum (27 June in the European Parliament), a Euro Mediterranean dialogue on beekeeping (27 June in the European Parliament), a high-level Conference with three panels (28 June) opened by Mrs Mariya Gabriel MEP.
The topic of this year’s edition aimed to highlight the vital contribution of bees and pollination to our societies in Europe and worldwide and to urge all stakeholders to seek new forms of collaboration in the fight for their preservation.
Indeed, bees and pollinators provide invaluable services. About three-quarters of food crops in the world depend to some extent on pollination. Bees alone are responsible for the pollination of more than 30% of global food production. Europe alone is home to 1,965 wild bee species. In addition, there are approximately 600,000 beekeepers and 16 million beehives in the EU. On the whole, estimates show that pollinators contribute EUR 22 billion to European agriculture each year. Furthermore, this value does not consider the precious service pollinators do in maintaining the fecundity of wild plants. It is therefore crucial that a common and collaborative framework be developed in order to protect this species and other pollinating animals.
Under the patronage of MEP Mariya Gabriel (EPP Group / Bulgaria), Vice-Chair of the Intergroup on “Climate Change, Biodiversity, Sustainable Development” and Chair of the Working Group on “Apiculture and Bee Health”, the 6th European Week of Bees and Pollination was actively supported by a large group of MEPs from different EU member states and political groups in particular by Michel Dantin (EPP/France), Marijana Petir (EPP/Croatia), Mairead McGuinness (EPP/Ireland), Frédérique Ries (ALDE/Belgium), Nathalie Griesbeck (ALDE/France) and John Procter (ECR/United Kingdom).
The co-organizers of the Bee Week included the United Nations Development Programme, the Biodiversity network for bees, Gembloux Agro-Bio Tech (University of Liege), BeeOdiversity, Bee Life, the European Food Safety Authority and Copa-Cogeca. This edition was also greatly supported by partners such as Fedapimed, Felcos Umbria and the Coobeeration campaign.
The aim of the sixth edition of the European Week of Bees and Pollination was clear: to explore new avenues of cooperation and develop a collaborative framework among all stakeholders. The Symposium, Workshop, Dialogue, Forum and the High-level conference enabled to draw general guidelines to answer this question, after having pointed out the various challenges and threats faced by pollinators and the beekeeping sector. The panels and conferences held throughout this three day initiative thus intended to lay the groundwork for the broadest possible coalition of stakeholders.
Despite vested interests and sometimes diverging opinions, members and participants largely came to the following conclusion: they might not agree on everything, but they know that working toward and investing in areas of agreement can yield tremendous progress on a matter which is essential to our modern day societies.
Indeed our lives and the world as a whole, would be a very different place if bees did not exist. Bees are responsible for pollinating about 1/6 of the flowering plant species worldwide and approximately 400 different agriculture types of plants. Honey bees, bumblebees and wild bees ensure pollination for over 80 percent of crops and wild plants in Europe. Honey bees also provide honey and other apiculture products such as pollen, wax for food processing, propolis in food technology and royal jelly used as a dietary supplement and as an ingredient in food.
With pollinator populations continuing to seriously decline in recent years, the root causes behind bee colony losses and threats to their general health were brought to the attention of attendees, notably habitat destruction, pesticides, diseases and parasites, invasive species and climate change and its related impacts. Because of the urgency of this problem and the multi-faceted nature of the threats behind it, the need for serious and immediate action by policymakers was repeatedly stressed. Multiple policy approaches in a variety of sectors were therefore detailed and explained in order to mitigate the declines.
Key policy recommendations
Among the key ideas that came out of these intensive and enriching discussions were the notion that a European-level leadership and strategic plan is needed to reflect the scale of the bee health challenge – and that the Bee Week substantially contributes to this political visibility. Equally important was that bottom-up approaches and local tailor-made solutions are key to successful work when one-size-fits-all policies are inadapted. Sustained and enhanced communication – one of the core messages of this Bee Week – between all actors was repeatedly mentioned. Concrete proposals for conserving existing habitats and rehabilitating new habitats for instance in urban areas or setting up incentives and payments schemes for farmers that grow pollinator-dependent crops were presented. Calls for an increase in the research funding destined to pollinators and the assessing the economic value of pollination services were also made.
Finally, in a world where technological innovations are increasingly shaping our lives and where connectivity enables us to reach unprecedented levels of public attention, it was also stressed that technology should be utilised to monitor and document pollinator populations. Indeed, despite the considerable research that has already been conducted into the matter, there is neither a precise quantification of beekeeper-reported problems nor a valid data-based explanation for what is impacting bee colony survival or fitness.
Avenues for future cooperation
Beyond scientific objectives, the various sessions and conferences highlighted the need for further communication efforts, additional education platforms for continuing stakeholder dialogue, collaboration and understanding of bee health, bringing together apiarists, farmers and scientists – in short, all those who care about healthy bees. This was the success of this edition of European Bee Week: bringing together all stakeholders, providing the extraordinary opportunity to actively discuss, recognize, address and endeavor to solve these pressing issues together. Guests, ranging from beekeepers in the Mediterranean to French scientists and Italian bartenders working with honey, sat around a common table to commit to taking important steps towards diagnosing and preventing bee mortality through in collaborative framework.
This year’s edition successfully laid down a platform for a vital cross-sector cooperation and will hopefully see this evolve into a lasting coalition among all stakeholders for improved bee health.
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