HOW BEES IMPACT FOOD SECURITY
Updated: Dec 22, 2022
That much needed grocery trip ensues, and our once dull kitchen becomes a museum of navy flecks, sharp red and green spheres, and rampant golden blossoms. Pints of fresh blueberries, bags of crisp apples, and vases of sunflowers transform the room into an exhibition of edible art. But such museums are becoming a luxury only few can afford.
Defining food security
As a Benefit Corporation, we are committed to tackling societal challenges like protecting food security. But what does that look like and how do we make an impact? Let’s start by breaking down the definition of food security. Food security is not just about access to food, but consistent access to affordable, nutritious food. Unfortunately, a seemingly basic need like access to nutritious food has become somewhat of a luxury.
Food insecurity means not being able to afford your next meal, much less knowing where it will come from. It’s not about getting enough calories, but enough nutrients to sustain your body and mind. High rates of food insecurity are correlated with high rates of obesity, diabetes, behavioral disorders, and other health conditions.
Furthermore, prices for healthy foods like fresh fruits and vegetables that are necessary for food security are often higher than prices for processed foods (derived from crops like soy and corn). Farm subsidies often encourage the production and easy consumption of foods that aren’t favorable to a healthy and affordable lifestyle. People who face food insecurity are forced to consume affordable foods that perpetuate harmful health conditions.
We’ve all heard that statistic by now, that over 1/3 of the food we consume is because an animal or insect was gracious enough to pollinate a flower, kicking off a chain of events culminating in a product humans can eat. The value of pollination in agricultural is massive and ignoring its impact would place global food security at risk. We could all benefit from a better understanding of sustainable crop pollination.
For those unfamiliar with our benefit, we strive to meet a lofty, yet crucial goal: helping growers protect yields by developing tools to measure and optimize pollination.
As populations of pollinating insects continue to decline, funding for pollination research has increased in the last few years. But there are still many unanswered questions, and most growers still rely on decades-old research that’s barely applicable to today's modernized agriculture. In response, we spent most of last year collecting, analyzing, and distributing information on pollination best practices in an effort to advance grower education.
This year, we’ve completed several pilot studies to measure colonies in crop areas that are new to us, like berries and seeds, which also rely on bee pollination. Expanding our expertise has led us to provide growers with more specialized education in understanding factors that affect pollination. We created new granular metrics to evaluate field-level pollination performance by pairing Verifli data with real-time weather conditions. These include figures like how much time bees can pollinate given daily weather conditions and a “pollination score” that estimates if bees are strong enough to provide sufficient pollination if the weather is less than optimal.
Building a model to determine colony strength with infrared imagery is no simple task. IR cameras are most reliable in a controlled setting. Since hives used for pollination are exposed to the elements, Verifli’s findings must be adapted based on environmental conditions. Though our initial model was built around weather typical in almond pollination, we’ve focused this year on tuning the model to maintain accuracy during warm-weather pollination events.
For growers, especially smaller ones who are more impacted by low yields, efficient pollination is key. Pollination services deliver hundreds of billions of dollars in economic value each year, so we want to help growers understand what they’re paying for and how to manage this input. Through our initiative to educate growers about managing pollination, we aim to make a positive impact on food security by discouraging the habits that lead to poor pollination.
Pollination is essential to safeguarding food security, so we at The Bee Corp are committed to advancing research and improving our understanding of optimizing pollination. If we can assist growers in getting the most out of pollination, it can lead to bigger and better yields and ultimately decrease the price of nutritious foods.