by Jernej Kovač, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food of the Republic of Slovenia
On 20 December 2017 the United Nations General Assembly in New York unanimously adopted a resolution proclaiming 20 May World Bee Day. This success is the result of cooperation between the Slovenian Beekeepers’ Association, as an initiator and the Republic of Slovenia. But this would not be possible without the support of all 115 countries from all around the world that proactively supported the initiative. However, this is only the beginning of the difficult process of the protection of bees and other pollinators. Now we have to raise the awareness of their importance among various stakeholders, business communities and general public in all countries. We must undertake concrete activities to increase care for bees and promote the development of beekeeping.
Why are bees so important for mankind?
For the food of tomorrow
Bees and other pollinators are of great importance for humankind’s existence as they significantly contribute to the global security of the food supply. One-third of the world’s food production, or every third spoonful of food we eat, is dependent on pollination, where bees play the most important role.
Highly nutritious products, such as honey, royal jelly and pollen, also increase the nutritional value of foods. Foods that depend on pollinators contribute to healthy nutrition, since they are a rich source of vital bodily nutrients.
For sustainable agriculture and jobs
Through pollination bees increase agricultural production. Cultivated plants that depend on pollination are a major source of farmers’ income, especially small and family farms in developing countries. In addition, they provide millions of people with jobs and income. According to an international study conducted in 2016, annual global food production worth between 192 and 472 billion euros (235 and 577 billion US dollars) is directly dependent on pollinators.
For environment preservation
Bees and other pollinators have positive effects on the entire ecosystem and help preserve natural biodiversity. Biodiversity is important in preserving natural habitats and therefore humanity by providing food, fuel, oxygen, clean water and air, stabilising climate, creating and restoring soil fertility, detoxifying and degrading waste, and pollinating plants, etc.
Bees are a good biological indicator of environmental conditions. Observing their development and state of health helps detect changes in the environment and take prompt action. Failure to respond to such warnings can make the consequences even worse later.
Bees are increasingly endangered. In Europe, extinction threatens nearly 10 % of all bee species. In 2016, the number of honey bee colonies decreased by as much as 33% in the United States and 13% in the European Union. The number of other pollinators worldwide is also in decline. The course of events is sometimes referred to as the “pollination crisis”.
Therefore idea was born…
It was a morning in September 2014 when Boštjan Noč, the president of the Slovenian Beekeepers’ Association, was driving to work and listening to a radio programme about world days and their significance. This is when he got the idea that bees should have their world day, too, because every third spoonful of food in the world depends on bees, and bees are becoming more and more endangered every day. He communicated his idea to the management of the Slovenian Beekeepers’ Association on the very same day, and proposed that 20 May should be proclaimed as the World Bee Day.
The initiative convinced the Beekeepers’ Association and afterwards the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Food, Dejan Židan, who made a commitment that the Ministry would make efforts for the realisation of the World Bee Day. The idea was then supported by Borut Pahor, the President of Slovenia, and, in the spring of 2015, by the entire Government of the Republic of Slovenia.
A day deliberately chosen
Slovenia proposed the celebration of World Bee Day in the month of May for several reasons. This is when bees in the northern hemisphere are most active and begin to reproduce. This is also the period in which the need for pollination is greatest. In the southern hemisphere it is autumn, a time for harvesting bee products and of days and weeks of honey. The chosen day, 20 May, is also the birthday of Anton Janša (1734–1773), a Slovenian pioneer of modern beekeeping and one of the greatest experts in this field in his day.
A challenging way from the idea to the adoption
This was the beginning of a three-year period of intense informing of various publics around the world. Slovenia organised or took part in various professional and political conferences to discuss the bee issue. In order to find support, it presented the initiative to ministers and other statesmen, both within the European Union and across the world, as well as in international organisations. In terms of beekeeping, the key event was the 44th international congress of Apimondia, the International Federation of Beekeepers’ Associations, in South Korea, where the initiative was unanimously confirmed by beekeepers from all over the world.
The most important and challenging, however, was the official procedure for the realisation of the initiative, which took place for over a year and a half before the United Nations Organisations, first at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN in Rome and then at the General Assembly of the United Nations Organization in New York. Countless documents had to be drafted and other tasks completed in order to obtain official support from each individual member state active in these organisations.
“It was clear from the discussions held with representatives of states around the world that the world has long been aware of the importance of bees, pollination and apiculture, but that nobody had come up with such an initiative,” said Snežana Popovič, Head of the Service of Coordination and International Affairs and the leader of the project team for the proclamation of the World Bee Day at the Ministry of Agriculture.
With the aim of raising awareness about the importance of bees and other pollinators and their key role for the agriculture, environment and the human race in general, Slovenia designed an interactive exhibition entitled The Bee World. The pavilion was first presented to the public at the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) during the 25th session of the Committee on Agriculture in September 2016. Then it toured numerous world metropolises (including the headquarters of the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium, the congress of Apimondia in Istanbul, Turkey, international fair in Hong Kong, China, and the headquarters of the United Nations in New York, USA).
As a part of the awareness-raising campaign about bees, Slovenia launched the so-called honey breakfast even before making the initiative for the World Bee Day. It was first organised in 2007, when Slovenian beekeepers offered children in kindergartens and schools honey for breakfast. Since then we have held several presentations and workshops for children about the importance of bees for our food supply, with the stress on the preservation of a clean, healthy environment and countryside as a part of this education and promotional campaign. On the basis of this good practice, Slovenia launched an initiative at the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels to introduce a European honey breakfast in March 2014. It was supported by many EU Member States as well as other countries.
After more than three years of efforts, Slovenia’s initiative was actively supported by 115 countries from all over the world, including the biggest, e.g. the USA, Canada, China, Russian Federation, India, Brazil, Argentina, Australia and the European Union. The resolution for the proclamation of the World Bee Day was unanimously adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in New York on 20 December 2017, and 20 May was proclaimed the World Bee Day.
Slovenians have always been a nation of beekeepers. In this regard Slovenia, with five beekeepers per 1,000 inhabitants, has always been in the front ranks globally, and beekeeping is an important agricultural activity with a long tradition. Slovenian beekeepers are known worldwide for their professionalism and advanced beekeeping technologies and unique Slovenian historical features, such as painted beehive front panels, apiaries and traditional beehives, and, naturally, the famous Carniolan bee.
The Carniolan honey bee (Apis mellifera carnica), which is an indigenous Slovenian subspecies of honey bee and the second most widespread subspecies in the world, is part of Slovenian national identity. Slovenia is the first country in European Union to have introduced legal protection for its honey bee.
Finally, Slovenia is the world’s first green country by Green Destinations’ international standards and a proud recipient of the National Geographic World Legacy (Destination Leadership) Award. Situated in the heart of Europe, Slovenia is a boutique country between the Alps, Mediterranean Sea, mysterious Karst with more than 11,000 karst caves and Pannonian Plain, rich in healthy water springs. Moreover, its capital Ljubljana was awarded the European Green Capital 2016 title and it is also one of the first in the world to offer innovative and certified forms of apitourism. And you might heard that, Slovenia is the only country with the word LOVE in its name!
World bee day is but the first step; what we need is concrete actions
Although World Bee Day is certainly an achievement of Slovenian diplomacy, it also brings about responsibilities. Slovenia has thus morally committed to protecting bees and other pollinators. The unanimous adoption of the resolution by all countries in the world was the first step towards taking an active role in ensuring biodiversity and a more successful fight against world hunger. In order to be successful, we must now address the governments of all countries, the business community and citizens themselves. Awareness about the vital importance of saving the bees must reach every individual. We must do more than just talk – we must undertake concrete activities to increase care for bees and promote the development of beekeeping – everywhere, including in developing countries.