It’s thought that Albert Einstein once said, “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.”
According to the documentary Vanishing of the Bees, it’s coming true. Directed by George Langworthy and Maryam Henein, Vanishing of the Bees was released in 2009 to raise public interest about the sudden disappearance of honeybees around the world.
Narrated by scientists, beekeepers and researchers, Vanishing of the Bees starts with a bee farmer in the US perplexed about why all his bees are vanishing. The documentary goes on to explain that the mysterious disorder causing the bees to disappear is called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). What it basically means is that the worker honeybees are disappearing and leaving their young bees behind, unable to continue the colony, leading to the mass decrease in honeybees.
Bees were thought to have grown from the sun God, Ra’, in ancient Egypt; so apparently we always knew just how crucial bees are for humanity. Today, Egypt is one of the most important players in the beekeeping industry in the Middle East and Africa, but its once vibrant industry has been declining in the past decade. It is estimated that we have about 1.3 million hives, 7,700 mud hives and around 270,000 beekeepers. Capitalizing on a climate favorable to beekeeping and to combat unemployment, two major projects were launched over a year back in Sohag and Dakahleya governorates. Still, it is estimated that our honey exports have gone down from LE 70 million to LE 50 million annually.
For an industry this size, CCD could be seriously disastrous.
The problem, according to the documentary, is that no one knows how it is happening or exactly why. What they do know is that the bees are just flying off, unable to return to their colony because they have become disorientated.
But a recent research in Purdue University, released on January 11, has found that the bees’ deaths in or around hives may have been due to neonicotinoid insecticides, used to coat corn and soybean seeds before planting. Other chemicals were also found at low levels in the soil, up to two years after the treated seeds were planted. “We know that these insecticides are highly toxic to bees; we found them in each sample of dead and dying bees,” says Christian Krupke, associate professor of entomology and a co-author of the findings to Purdue’s newspaper.
The term CCD was first coined in North America in 2006, where the disease was first publicly acknowledged, but the bees actually began to vanish in 2004.
One possible reason is that humans are imposing certain capitalist measures on the bees to maximize production and capitalize on the natural honey production process. The honeybees are stressed, overworked, pressured, and as the documentary puts it, they are “forced into industrialization.”
Another possible cause behind this phenomenon might be the pesticides used for agriculture. The documentary uses France as a case study after they banned the use of pesticides; three years later, the honeybees started to come back. But that doesn’t mean this will always be the case, or that the bees will return in numbers to their full capacity, as the toxic chemicals in the soil and plants take time to be flushed out.
But although the exact reasons behind the phenomenon are yet to be determined, it remains true that honeybees are simply disappearing. This is where the vanishing of the bees prediction comes into play.
The honeybees’ contribution to the food chain is vast; a honeybee is the most efficient in the league of pollinators, and over 90 crops rely on them. So if the bees vanish, it means the food chain, so excellently connected and created, will swiftly disintegrate.
How good the documentary was from an artistic point of view is not the main issue here, it is rather the problem it raises that should be the focus of our attention. So, the question now becomes, what can we do to help?
• If you have a garden, grow your own fruit or vegetables, it will make all the difference.
• Plant sunflowers or any brightly colored plants that can hopefully entice the bees back.
• Share this phenomenon with friends, family and the media if possible.
• If you work in agriculture, or know someone who does, start using natural pesticides.
To check out the Vanishing of the Bees documentary vanishingbees.com.