The Solution Report

Ecological farming methods can ensure food production
and avoid the negative impacts on bees

Executive Summary

The drastic decline of wild and managed bee populations recorded in recent years in Europe and North America is alarming given our reliance on these insect pollinators for biodiversity and global food security.

Managed honeybees have sharply declined, for instance, by 25% in Europe between 1985 and 2005. The decline of bees has led to the concept of a global ‘pollination crisis’ – a situation where pollination services by bees is limited, and this, in turn, may cause the yield and quality of crops to deteriorate. Scientific research shows that a diversity of wild bee species is paramount for ensuring sustainable crop production. Thus, we cannot rely solely on one species – managed honeybees – for pollination. A diversity of wild bee species is also essential to ensure food is delivered to our tables every day.

Recent scientific studies have shown that modern industrial agriculture is implicated in the decline of bees and the pollination services they provide to our crops and wild flowers. Ever increasing applications of fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides and their synergistic negative impacts on bee health (Johnston et al. 2014, Tirado et al. 2013) and loss of natural and semi-natural habitat on field, farm and landscape levels are major drivers of bee declines. Further, the modern industrial farming model also causes problems of growing resistance of pests and weeds, decreased soil fertility and water retention, contamination of ground waters, high energy input and CO2-emissions, as well as reduced resilience and increased vulnerability to climate change. In addition, under this paradigm farmers become increasingly dependent upon seeds and chemical products from multinational companies.

These are just some examples of the negative impacts resulting from current industrial agriculture practices. As an alternative, a model based on ecological farming methods could ensure food production and avoid the negative impacts outlined above. Scientific studies discussed in this report show that the implementation of ecological farming is feasible and in fact the only solution to the ever-increasing problems associated with industrial agriculture. Ecological farming, which includes some organic agricultural methods, promotes biodiversity on farmland and supports the restoration of semi-natural habitat on farms as ecological compensation areas for bees and other wildlife. Ecological farming does not rely on the use of synthetic chemical pesticides and herbicides and, thereby, safeguards bees from toxic effects of these agrochemicals.

Ways Forward to Help Bees

and Implement Ecological Farming

Phase out the use of all chemical pesticides

The use of herbicides in industrial farming diminishes floral resources available to bees in arable fields and field margins whilst the use of herbicides and mineral fertilizers on grasslands has left them impoverished and with few floral resources for bees. The solution to these problems is to employ ecological farming which does not use synthetic chemicals pesticides and herbicides.

Habitat conservation

Conservation of natural and semi-natural habitat within agricultural landscapes and elsewhere is essential to support wildlife biodiversity, including native bees and natural enemies. Further loss of habitats jeopardizes the plight of these species which are beneficial to agriculture and other wildlife.

Semi-natural habitat restoration on farms

Research indicates that increasing the amount of semi-natural habitat of farms is crucial to support the recovery of wild bee populations and to maintain maximum pollination services to crops and wild plants. 3. It is estimated that for each additional 10% increase in the amount of high-quality bee habitats in a landscape, wild bee abundance and species richness may increase on average by 37%.

Habitat enhancement with wild flower strips

Native pollen and nectar flower and legume seed mixes should be encouraged under AES to provide floral resources for bees. Employing functional agro-biodiversity to provide tailored flower seed mixes to enhance natural enemies and to employ natural pest control techniques should also be encouraged under AES.

"We are working to go a step beyond the integrated production approach in order to grow cotton
without the use of any chemicals, or at least reduce the use of chemicals to a minimum. We can
do this by using organic fertilizers and treatments that respect the natural enemies of pests. Yes,
I do believe that it is possible to reach the goal of growing cotton without chemicals."

− Alberto Calderón - Technical service of the farmers and ranchers association COAG Seville, Spain

"To increase the duration of photosynthesis, use windbreaks to intensify transpiration. If
there are windbreaks, they host ladybirds, which neutralize aphids. This makes pesticides
unnecessary. At the grassy bottom of the fence there are beetles. Beetles neutralize slugs,
also making pesticides unnecessary."

− Marc Dufumier - agroecology scientist and agronomist, France

"There should be better cooperation with farmers, who should try to increase their use of
organic solutions. This could happen more often with support from the government. And
of course it is very important to continue research. There should be independent funding
for research that will give us more results and fill in the current gaps in our knowledge."

− Dr. Fani Hadijna - Researcher at the Apicultural Institute of the National Agricultural Research Foundation, Greece

"Roses and aphids belong together, a rose will always attract aphids. And the
purpose of aphids is actually to serve as food for a number of other insects and
birds. So when you create an environment that is attractive for predators, that is
attractive for the insects who are supposed to eat the aphids, then they will
automatically start eating the aphid plague till it ceases to be a plague."

− Hans van Hage & Geertje van der Krogt, Organic rose nursery, Netherlands

"Finally, an important and fundamental aspect is that – without decreasing income – reducing pesticides usage means less health risks for workers, farmers and field contractors. These people are the ones who are most often exposed to the highest concentrations of chemicals."

− Lorenzo Furlan – Manager of Agricultural Research Department, Italy

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