According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, three out of four of the world’s major food crops for human consumption – and more than a third of the world’s agricultural land – depend in part on pollinating insects. It is not just about fruits, dried fruits and vegetables: bees also pollinate the alfalfa with which cows are fed and the crops used for textiles and pharmaceuticals. In the United States, honey bees alone guarantee an agricultural production estimated at more than 20 billion dollars (16 billion euros), according to theAmerican Beekeeping Federation The American Federation of Beekeeping, and pollinating insects contribute to a global food production of well over $200 billion (€164 billion).
But bee populations in several nations suffered a heavy decline in the decade following the identification of hive depopulation syndrome in 2006. These mass deaths of bees have been related to pesticides (in particular to a group of chemicals called neonicotinoids), to the parasitic mite Varroa destructor and the reduction of native habitat aggravated by the spread of large-scale commercial monocultures. Climate change has also put endemic species around the world in trouble, causing more than half a dozen species of bees native to the United States to end up on the list of endangered species.
Angelina Jolie was recently appointed godmother of Women for Bees (Women for Bees), a five-year project launched by theUNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Science and Culture Organization, and Guerlain, the cosmetics company French. Guerlain claims to have contributed more than EUR 1.6 million to the training and support of 50 female beekeeping entrepreneurs in 25 biosphere reserves designated by theUNESCO Around the world.
Also as explained by Guerlain, the goal of the entrepreneurs is the construction of 2,500 hives of native species by 2025 thus safeguarding 125 million bees. This year, women will be trained in Bulgaria, Cambodia, China, Ethiopia, France, Russia, Slovenia and Rwanda, along with others in Peru and Indonesia, and more will be added in 2022.
A key objective of the programme is to highlight the diversity of local beekeeping methods by sharing the know-how of different cultures. In the Xishuangbanna Biosphere Reserve in China, for example, locals use hives made from fallen tree trunks closed with cow dung to protect bees in winter. In the Tonle Sap biosphere reserve in Cambodia, beekeepers raise swarms on top of sloping branches to make it easier to collect honey without destroying colonies. The officials of theUNESCO they told me that within the framework of the program Women for Bees neither colonies nor queen bees would have been imported with the aim of not threatening the native bees and not spreading diseases.
Angelina Jolie has taken on this new role despite coming from very different experiences: special envoy of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, in the last 20 years she has participated in almost 60 missions of theUN in war zones and refugee camps. In 2003 he founded a foundation for the conservation and development of communities to which he gave the name of the eldest of his sons, Maddox, in a protected rural region of northwestern Cambodia. The foundation is dedicated to the removal of wartime landmines, the conversion of poachers into forest guards and the promotion of gender equality, among other objectives. It also trains beekeepers.
In June Angelina Jolie will join the top 10 “women for bees” by participating in a 30-day crash course conducted by experts from the French Observatory of apidology in Provence where she herself intends to learn beekeeping.
Indira Lakshmanan: For 20 years he has dedicated himself to fragile and vulnerable populations, in particular women and children. What is the connection between people at risk and bees? How do you combine these causes that you embrace?
Angelina Jolie: Many of the people at risk are displaced due to climate change or often innes warscate by struggles for increasingly scarce resources. The destruction of the environment and livelihoods are some of the phenomena that lead to migration, displacement or struggle between peoples. All these aspects are interconnected.
Pollinating insects are obviously of vital importance to our existence and that of our environment so we have to understand at a scientific level what happens if they disappear. This is a problem that can be worked on to find a solution.
I’m excited that instead of just saying, “Bees are disappearing, some species have already become extinct and others are dying out,” we’re saying, “here, look, this is the way to protect them.” It is necessary to be more aware about the use of chemicals and deforestation. But not only that: there are many things that ordinary citizens can do to contribute; it is not necessary to own soil to be part of the solution. I am very encouraged by the fact that we approach the problem with a proactive approach that offers women tools that can help them in their livelihoods.