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The importance of bees in human life

Importance bees in human life

Bees have existed on planet earth for 120 million years. All this time they have been part of nature. As soon as man came into the world, he was constantly interacting with these little creatures, which brought so much value and usefulness to his life. This story began long ago and continues to this day. And our task is not to stop it, but to continue.

Bees in history and culture

In ancient times, humans interacted with wild bees that lived in tree hollows and rock crevices. To get honey, people had to climb up to these hollows and literally climb inside for honey. This was a dangerous occupation, as there was no protective clothing yet. But people did it because honey was the only sweetener at that time and a very desirable product.

An 8,000-year-old rock art known as “The Man of Bicorp” was discovered in the Cuevas de la Araña, or Spider Caves in Valencia, Spain.
A man collects the honey of wild bees. An 8,000-year-old rock art known as “The Man of Bicorp”.

In Ancient Egypt people learnt to keep bees in hives and get honey and wax regularly. It was in Ancient Egypt that we record the facts that bees were domesticated as they were kept in hives. Bees were believed to be of divine origin and were born from the tears of the sun god Ra. Hieroglyphs of bees are found on the walls of pyramids and temple complexes, which emphasised the religious significance of these small creatures.

hieroglyph of bee
Hieroglyph of bee in Egypt

In ancient Greece, Rome and the Middle Ages, people continued to study and interact with bees. They learnt more and more about their lives, which only served to increase the productivity of bee products. In Greece and Rome, bees were closely associated with mythology and had a direct connection to the birth of Zeus, as they were the ones who drove people away from the cave where the young Zeus was hiding.

Zeus in Greek mythology is the god of the sky, thunder and lightning, who is in charge of the whole world
Bees were closely associated with mythology and had a direct connection to the birth of Zeus

With the spread of Christianity in Europe in the Middle Ages, there was a huge need for beeswax to produce candles. Churches and monasteries needed candles for many religious ceremonies. Beeswax was produced in Europe and also imported extensively from other countries. In medieval manuscripts, the so-called Exultets proclaimed bees, as they were the source of wax for candles, which played one of the central roles in the Easter service.

An image of people catching a swarm of bees in Bari Exultet Roll 1025 ca
Bari Exultet Roll 1025 ca. Cathedral Archives, Bari

We find images of bees in heraldry. The bee symbolised diligence, prudence and, because it was believed to never sleep, vigilance. As bees hoard their honey, they symbolise economy and thrift and are present on bank signs in this sense.  Personal symbol of Napoleon Bonaparte was a bee as a symbol of immortality and resurrection. The seven bees against the globe on the coat of arms of Manchester say that the fruits of the city’s labour can be found everywhere in the world.

Manchester's coat of arms
Manchester’s coat of arms

Beekeeping products

Bees have been providing humans with many useful products for centuries. Almost everything that bees produce has beneficial for humans.

Bee honey.

First and foremost, honey has been used for centuries as a food sweetener, antibacterial agent, preservative and as an ingredient in medicines.  It was highly valued in ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome and medieval Europe. So a large number of people were engaged in honey production.

Bee Honey from Apiary
Honey

Beeswax.

Wax has been of great value to man at all times. It was used as a component in the preparation of paints, glues. The wax was used to make moulds for metal casting, figurines, posthumous masks. It served to protect wooden products from humidity. But the most massive demand for beeswax was created by the spread of Christianity. A huge number of candles were needed for rituals, so much so that Europe could not satisfy the demand and it was necessary to import beeswax from other countries and continents. According to some data, the annual demand for beeswax only for The Royal Monastery of St. Mary of Pedralbes, Spain (18 religious houses) was 3000 kg.

Pure beeswax
Beeswax

Pollen.

Bee pollen collected by bees visiting plants during flowering is rich in vitamins, minerals and trace elements.  It is a very valuable biological product.

Bee pollen
Pollen

In addition to the above, bees produce royal jelly, propolis, bee venom. All these products are used by humans.

Pollination

In addition to the products that bees produce directly, they perform a very important activity for humans – pollination. In terms of economic impact, pollination is more valuable than honey, pollen, propolis.

It is estimated that on average, bees add $3,251 in value per hectare of pollinated plants through the pollination process.

If pollination does not occur, 5-8% of food will simply not be produced. This would lead to shortages and famine in some countries.

The value of food that depends on pollination is estimated at between $235 billion and $577 billion annually.

In California, for example, entire almond plantations need pollination during flowering. Almonds are known to be 40 to 90 per cent dependent on pollination.

In some areas of China, irresponsible use of pesticides has made insect pollination impossible. And in order to get a harvest of pears, they urgently resorted to pollination with the help of humans. That is, people artificially transferred pollen from one plant to another.

The bee pollinates the plants
Pollination of plants by honeybees

Bees and the Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, the UN General Assembly developed 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Achieving these goals contributes to improving the lives of people on the planet.

1) No poverty, 2) Zero hunger, 3) Good health and well-being, 4) Quality education, 5) Gender equality, 6) Clean water and sanitation, 7) Affordable and clean energy. Affordable and clean energy, 8) Decent work and economic growth, 9) Industry, innovation and infrastructure, 10) Reducing inequality, 11) Sustainable cities and communities, 12) Responsible consumption and production, 13) Climate action, 14) Life under water, 15) Life on land, 16) Peace, justice and strong institutions, 17) Partnerships to achieve the Goals.

Bees, as responsible for a third of the food produced on earth, make a notable contribution to these goals.

Many food products depend on pollination for almost 90 per cent of their production. And it so happens that these foods are grown by small, private, family farms for which this is a significant income stream. Without pollination, the yields of these farms would be reduced, leaving people impoverished. In this way bees contribute to their well-being (SDG 1).

Bees contribute immensely to the production of produce thereby helping to alleviate hunger in the land. (SDG 2).

Bees are engaged in organic pollination. Their decline is a result of poor farming practices, use of pesticides. In this sense, a sufficient number of bees contributes to the goal of health and well-being (SDG 3).

Bees provide jobs for many people. For many of them, being involved in the honey business is a significant support. (SDG 8).

By pollinating plants, bees contribute to increasing biodiversity on the planet. Biodiversity leads in turn to the preservation and improvement of the earth’s climate (SDG 13).

Sustainable Development Goals Infographics
Sustainable Development Goals

Bee Day

In 2017, the UN General Assembly approved the celebration of Bee Day on 20 May. The proposal was initiated by the Republic of Slovenia, with the support of Apimondia and FAO.

The day of celebration on 20 May was not chosen by chance. On this day in 1734, the Slovenian beekeeper Anton Janša was born, who made a great contribution to the development and establishment of beekeeping.

Bee Day was created to emphasise the important role of bees in human life. It is an opportunity for governments, organisations, civil society and citizens to undertake activities that will improve the conditions and habitat of bees, increase their diversity and support the development of sustainable beekeeping.

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