With the rise of veganism and vegetarianism as dietary options, the almond milk industry expanded greatly over the past few years. In 2018, it was discovered that the almond milk industry had grown 250% in the previous five years and reported 11 billion in profits. On average, an American eats 2 lbs of almonds each year, thus giving 2.3 billion almonds annually. The increasing popularity of almonds puts pressure on the system to produce more.
Bees pollinate almond plants, and an industry grew around this newly established association. At first, beekeepers would live modestly by trading beeswax and honey. It was an artisan profession. However, when the bee business proliferated, beekeepers used this situation as a business advantage.
For example, a beekeeper named Dennis Arp got into the bee business in the 1980s. It was profitable, but the bees started to die in large numbers. At first, he lost 5% of his hives due to meteorological conditions and diseases, but recently, he lost nearly 100% of his hives because of an infestation of tracheal mites. Whenever he sends his bees to work on almond orchards, he loses 30% of his hives.
Well, bees slowly die in large quantities because of how they are treated. One of the leading causes of these mass deaths is pesticides. Almonds are grown in large, concentrated areas, and pesticides are used to eliminate all unwanted parasites. The most commonly used pesticide is the “herbicide glyphosate,” which is also known to be toxic for bees and humans, causing cancer growth. In addition, pesticides are mainly used in monocultures. Because many orchards are close to one another, the pesticides spread and infect other bee hives.
A second cause of the extinction of bees is the sickness that can result from the condensation of bees in a small space. The bees are concentrated in small areas they are unfamiliar with because their hives are condensed in large numbers. Bees were imported from Europe to North America to pollinate crops. They are originally from there; thus, they are not used to the potential diseases presented in North America. This phenomenon was dubbed “colony collapse disorder” and is described as the fast loss of bees in a pack.
Bees are forced to pollinate during the winter period, a time in which they are biologically supposed to be dormant. The use of them during winter is destroying their natural habit and increasing the number of deaths. Farmers are using nectar and pollen to incite them to wake up and work.
The hives of bees are declining. Arp said he is paying around 100,000$ per year for the reconstruction of the 35% of hives he lost due to pesticides and mite treatment.
A Californian law was passed with the “Bee’s where” initiative. It states that beekeepers must register where their hives are located so that when farmers spray pesticides, the beekeepers are notified of it to try and protect the hives.
Biodiversity was decided to be the main answer to bee extinction, a logical response to monoculture. Xerces Society, a non-profitable organization, initiated the “Bee Better” program. By using biodiversity, farmers avoid pesticide use and let nature take its course.
An example of this biodiversity is Glenn Anderson. He owns a small farm of bees of 20 orchards that prosper well and does not suffer from extensive extermination of bees. By possessing small cultures of almonds, Anderson avoids having to use pesticides. Large monocultures have an enormous amount of almonds, and the high concentration results in the use of pesticides to avoid infestation. Instead, he uses the soil in the orchard to soil the ground and reinforce the plants.
Although it seems like an impossible task, the lives of humanity depend on these little insects. If nothing is done to save them, the whole agriculture production, thus the food industry, can be left with severe consequences. As “bees are nature’s magician”, it is crucial to maintain their survival. If not, our survival is at stake.