Planting Wildflowers Could Save Honey Bees From Extinction

There is still time to reverse the decline in bees and other pollinators.



(Daniel Prudek /

The solution to saving the bees is easier than many people think. Plant more wildflowers; besides being beautiful, they are incredibly beneficial.

Wildflowers provide a critical habitat for pollinators and planting wildflowers can also improve crop yield and soil health, as well as prevent soil erosion.

Imagine a world without almonds, blueberries, cherries, apples, peaches, mangoes, melons and broccoli. OK, maybe broccoli is not that hard but over 80 percent of food crops require pollination from insects but most of the bees and other pollinators have crashed at an alarming rate in recent years.

According to a Penn State study, shows that European and American beekeepers are suffering huge annual losses. In the US, beekeepers have lost over 30 percent of their colonies to colony collapses every year since 2006. While the exact cause is still being debated, the culprit is most likely pesticides.

There is still time for this to be reversed if countries adopt the new farmer-friendly strategy that was introduced in November at the UN Biodiversity conference Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.

Stefanie Christmann of the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas presented a study that showed substantial gains in biodiversity from devoting 25 percent of cropland to flowering economic crops like spices, oil seeds, and medicinal or forage plants and farmers will benefit too.

Christmann spent five years testing different approaches to farming with alternative pollinators with field trials in Uzbekistan and Morocco. One in every four cultivation strips was devoted to flowering crops like oil seeds and spices and nesting materials like old wood were provided for pollinating insects like ground-nesting bees to use. And sunflowers were planted nearby as wind cultures.

The results of the study were amazing Christmann reported. Compared to fields sown the traditional way with only one crop (monocultures), there was an increase in the amount and diversity of pollinators, crops were pollinated more efficiently. There were fewer pests and an increased crop yield.

In all the test climates, farmers incomes increased. The largest gains were in semi-arid climates where pumpkin yields rose over 500 percent and eggplants over 300 percent. In areas with adequate rainfall. Tomato harvests and eggplant yields doubled, and In mountain fields the yields of squash tripled.

Christmann will test a five-year plan to move from the small pilot programs to large-scale farmers who will insert flowering strips of canola and other crops to break up their monoculture fields in a new study funded by the German government.

Just planting more wildflowers, berry bushes and flowering trees in landscaping would be a big help. Many European countries are already growing wildflowers to attract insect pollinators.

“The entire environment would be richer, more beautiful and more resilient to climate change,” she told The Guardian. “We would have many more insects, flowers, and birds. And it would be far more self-sustaining. Even the poorest countries in the world could do this.”

Right now, there are 24 countries, mostly European, in a coalition committed to reversing the decline of pollinators. Christmann is lobbying for more countries that were at the UN conference to join so that there will be enough support on a multilateral environmental agreement on pollinators.

Some major changes have already been implemented. The EU banned the world's most widely used insecticides (neonicotinoid) from all outside fields because of the risk to bees. One pesticide Clothianidin has been completely banned from any use.

Christmann expects resistance from the agrochemical companies but that doesn't phase her. She just presented the report in Egypt and she has the backing of the German government behind her work. Now it is a race against the clock.

"I’m 59 now and I want to get them globally protected before I retire so I have to hurry,” she told The Guardian.

Next year, the decline of pollinators will be highlighted in a new global report on genetic resources for food. It appears that the world is finally waking up to the problem. Implementing a solution should hopefully not be far behind.

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