The contributions of bees towards relevant SDG targets
Reductions in global bee populations are threatening the pollination benefits to both the planet and people. Whilst the contribution of bee pollination in promoting sustainable development goals through food security and biodiversity is widely acknowledged, a range of other benefits provided by bees has yet to be fully recognised. We explore the contributions of bees towards achieving the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Our insights suggest that bees potentially contribute towards 15 of the 17 SDGs and a minimum of 30 SDG targets. We identify common themes in which bees play an essential role, and suggest that improved understanding of bee contributions to sustainable development is crucial for ensuring viable bee systems.
1. NO POVERTY
Keeping bees offers economic diversity as an income source helping build resilient livelihoods for poor and vulnerable peoples, whilst potentially providing equal access to economic and natural resources for both men and women.
2. ZERO HUNGER
Bee pollination increases crop yield and enhances the nutritional value of fruits, vegetables, and seeds
3.Good health and well-being
Bee products provide safe and affordable medicinal sources used in traditional and modern medicine to treat non-communicable diseases such as cancer through strong bioactive compounds. Bee pollination potentially contributes to the growth and diversity of plants that are important for improved air quality.
Vocational training for keeping bees can enhance equal opportunities for employment, training and entrepreneurship amongst men, women and indigenous people (with traditional knowledge).
Keeping bees as a hobby or being involved in beekeeping can enhance opportunities for women’s involvement in economic, social and political decision-making processes even in communities that deprive women of property rights.
6. Clean water and sanitation
Bee pollination may contribute to growth and diversity in water-related ecosystems, such as mountains and forest. Appropriate afforestation efforts may provide new resources for commercial bee operations whilst potentially contributing to regional water supply.
7. Affordable and clean energy
Bee pollination improves production for oilseed crops used as biofuel such as sunflower, canola and rapeseed.
8. Decent work and economic growth
Improved agricultural production from bee pollination may contribute to the gross domestic product (GDP) of nations. Beekeeping can diversify livelihood opportunities for men and women in rural areas and support nature-based tourism initiatives.
9. Industry innovation and infrastructure
Bees are an element of nature that inspires human innovations (e.g., airplane design and computer algorithm development) and new honey-related products.
10. Reduced inequality
Improved livelihoods from beekeeping and the contribution of bee pollination towards GDP can support sustainable income growth for lower income groups which can potentially contribute to promoting inclusive social, economic and institutional development.
11. Sustainable cities and communities
Bees can be useful in monitoring air quality in urban areas, as pollination of urban flora can support improved local air quality. Bees can enhance pollination and self-sustainability of urban gardens and public open spaces.
12. Responsible consumption and production
Bee pollination can contribute to reducing food waste by improving visual aesthetics of food (shape, size and colour) and increase shelf life. Beekeeping can be marketed as sustainable tourism for regional development.
13. Climate actions
Use of bees and bee products for environmental monitoring can improve understanding of climate impacts on the environment.
14. Life below water
Bees can potentially contribute to improved production of plant-based sources of compounds commonly found in fish. Overharvesting of fish can be managed by promoting production and consumption of alternative plant-based nutrient sources.
15. Life on land
Bees contribute to biodiversity by pollinating flowering trees and plants and beekeeping can contribute to forest conservation. Incorporating beekeeping in local planning processes may support reforestation activities which can result in poverty reduction and sustainable regional development.
Bees, people and the planet
Bees comprise ~ 20 000 described species across seven recognised families, with many more species yet to be described. The evolutionary radiation of bees coincided with the evolutionary radiation of flowering plants, and bees occupy an important ecological role as pollinators of a range of flowering plant species. Although bees are not the most diverse group of pollinators (butterflies and moths comprise over 140 000 species), they are the most dominant taxonomic group amongst pollinators; only in the Arctic regions, is another group more dominant. The ability of bees to transport large numbers of pollen grains on their hairy bodies, reliance on floral resources, and the semi-social or eu-social nature of some species are amongst the characteristics that make bees important and effective pollinators. Fifty bee species are managed by people, of which around 12 are managed for crop pollination.The potential importance of bees for crop pollination has been highlighted as a particular reason to conserve wild bees and their habitat. More than 90% of the world’s top 107 crops are visited by bees, however, wind- and self-pollinated grasses account for around 60% of global food production and do not require animal pollination.
Long-standing associations exist across multiple bee species and human societies. Documented ancient bee–people interactions include honey hunting dating back to the Stone Age for the honey bee Apis mellifera in Europe, more than 2 000 years of keeping the honey bee Apis cerana in Asia , and beekeeping reaching back to at least pre-Columbian times for stingless bee in Mayan Mexico. Bees also appear in many religious scriptures and are found within mythology, cosmology and iconography. Beeswax from culturally significant sugarbag bees has been used in the production of rock art by Aboriginal peoples in northern Australia for at least 4 000 years. In Greek society, bees are closely linked with the cycle of birth and death, and considered an emblem of immortality.These reciprocal bee–human relationships have historic legacy and are highly important for informing current practices around bee management.
The identified critical role of bees in sustainable development
The importance of bee pollination for food crops has been widely acknowledged, with growing concern of a global crisis as demand for pollination services continues to outstrip supply, with an associated increase in less diverse, pollinator-dependant agriculture systems .In addition to improving the yield of some crops, bee pollination contributes to enhanced nutritional value and improved quality and longer shelf life of many fruits and vegetables, which could potentially help in reducing food waste resulting from aesthetic imperfections.
Less-explored aspects of bee pollination include the contribution to biofuels . Despite being self-pollinated, oil seed crops show increased yield when pollinated by bees. Research in Mexico on the performance of bees on Jatropha curcas found significant improvement in the seed set when the self-pollinated varieties were supported with bee pollination. Canola, another self-pollinating oilseed crop, also shows a positive association between higher yields and bee diversity.
Beyond agricultural landscapes, research in urban bee ecology aids understanding of bee dynamics in our cities and informs urban bee conservation initiatives . Urban beekeeping strengthens residents’ connection to nature. Planting aesthetically pleasing, bee-attractive flowering species in landscape planning can provide forage for bees, and close proximity to such plantings may result in pollination rewards for trees and other species in public green spaces. European honey bees can be used as an indicator species for tracking contaminants and monitoring environmental health in urban areas. In addition, understanding bee forage preference, suitability of habitat and mobility between different habitat types is critical for designing sustainable urban and rural landscapes to optimize pollination benefits as well as support bee health. For example, the United Kingdom’s Protection of Pollinators Bill was proposed to develop a national network of wildflower corridors called B-lines to support bee populations and other pollinators.