On the Occasion of Bee Day (originally published on May 20th)

by Ashutosh Pradhan (ap@vinzai.com), founder of Purarbharan Foundation

It is May 20. Bees are flying everywhere on social media today – but wait, they are nearly all honeybees…

Alluding to a captioned image, one post emphasised how “humans ought to thank bees for pollinating our farms AND for bringing us such sweet honey.”

Really? Come on: bees do NOT produce honey for humans, do they?

In spite of the Internet being full of pro-honey content, there are a growing number of people who do not consume honey for ethical reasons. What do they know that most of us others don’t? Below is some information about bees and honey. Some readers may already know this info, but I’m sure that for many, this is the first time you’re learning these facts. So off we go:

Today is World Bee Day, not Honey Bee Day (that is on 21 Aug.)

All honey bees are bees, but not all bees are honey bees.

All bees help pollinate, and there are a few hundred varieties of bees, not just one species.

Bees that do collect the nectar from which honey is made, do so to survive during off-season so as to continue their life cycle in perpetuity. There is no such thing as extra. And it is not the LEAST meant for humans.

If bees abandon a natural hive with some leftover honey, it is used by other bees who arrive there later. Btw, these ‘latecomer’ or occupier bees ALSO help pollinate our plants and crops. Someone may claim to have not killed honey-bees, when in fact they have actually made money by looting honey, and left the poor worker bees to die of starvation in spite of all their hard work.

Honey is actually bee-vomit. Hundreds of worker bees consume nectar from flowers and exchange this regurgitated nectar, moving it across other worker bees to the right places inside the hive to store away safely or to use for nourishing their eggs. 

All commercial bee farming is based on ghastly and cruel practices apart from basically robbing the bees of their hard-earned nectar. Bee nests are smoked to daze bees and make harvesting honey easier. The hives are also sometimes burnt away with live bees inside in order to avoid taking care of them in the off-season.

When smoked, bees try to flee the hives in fear of their life, but before flying away, they try to pick up as much of their collected honey and carry it to a safer location. It was meant for their rainy day, after all.

Most professional beekeepers deny this, but a profitable honey business cannot run at scale without doing some of this: queen bees get their wings clipped so they cannot fly. They are also artificially inseminated (to produce worker bees) with sperm from male bees that are forcibly ejaculated.

When man-made beehives are placed in a farm, a single certain species of honeybees gets introduced in the local area. The newly arrived ‘farmed’ bees actually drive away the native bees. In this process, a phenomenon similar to monocropping happens at a bee-level and the resulting loss of pollinator diversity causes a breakdown of healthy food-chains in that ecosystem. This eventually works poorly for the farmer, but professional beekeepers do not reveal this to the farmer because of their obvious gains in terms of honey.

In some locations where elaborate studies were conducted, it was found that one single honey bee species had caused the collapse of over 200 bee species, causing irreparable damage to the native ecosystem.

The best breeding ground – or the place where bees reproduce quickly and thrive – are wild flower zones. Think about the Valley of Flowers in Uttarakhand or our own Kaas Pathaar!! Yes, but then no! There exist countless natural floral hillscapes, fields and wetlands that serve as great bee habitats but most stand ruined by human activity, all in recent years.

Not just mono-cropping and pesticides, but rampant urbanisation, mindless expansion/widening of highways, degradation of natural landscapes and wetlands for industry etc. are causing the biggest harm to the cause of bees. We need to question the need for infra projects because not only do they do us no good but they cause immense harm by destroying stable habitats and endangering human food systems almost directly. It is time we understood this reality.

Happy World Bee Day! Let our buzzy friends bee!!