Wild pollinators have declined in terms of presence and diversity (and abundance for some species) at local and regional scales. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List assessments indicate that 16.5 per cent of vertebrate pollinators are threatened with extinction globally (this figure rises to 30 per cent for island species).
- 90% of the world's wild flowering plants and more than a third of the fruits, nuts and seeds that humanity feeds on originate from the pollination activity of bees and other pollinating insects.
- Pollination is a fundamental process for the preservation of biodiversity, the survival of humanity because the reproduction of wild plants and therefore food security depend on it.
- The existence of bees is endangered by human activity and in particular by: habitat fragmentation, the development of intensive monoculture agriculture, the decrease in bees' resistance to parasites, the increasing use of pesticides. These are the same causes that favour the emergence of zoonoses such as COVID-19.
- The slowdown in human activities due to the coronavirus health crisis and the mild winter offered bees some respite, with a drop in bee mortality.
- The relationship between human and bee traditions and cultures is still maintained today, especially with the Bayaka populations of Central Africa whose honey hunting traditions are perpetuated from generation to generation. Wax has also been used in many activities for thousands of years, such as casting and pottery by the first farmers of the Neolithic period (over 8500 years ago). Wax has also played an essential role in some funeral rites as the main component in the mummification of the bodies of the deceased.
Regional and national assessments indicate high levels of threat to some bee and butterfly species. Seasonal colony loss of western honeybees has been high in recent years, at least in parts of the temperate northern hemisphere and in South Africa.Bees play a major role as pollinators and as producers of honey and other goods. The conservation of bees and their ecosystems is therefore essential to maintain certain ecosystem services.
Why take a special interest in bees?
Bees participate both in the proper functioning of ecosystems through the pollination of "wild" plants (self-regulating or ecosystem support service) and in the services that humans derive from bees: pollination of agricultural production, honey production, more indirectly participation in the "shaping" of landscapes, etc. There is therefore a multifunctional role for bees which does not stop at pollination and honey production (generic term which includes royal jelly). A last and less known element is propolis, which is a delicate and complex resin made up of 300 to 400 compounds. This propolis is used to protect the hive by its bactericidal action. It helps to limit the external aggressions: microbes, moulds, ... Only a few foragers have the capacity to make it. Propolis has many therapeutic properties:
- Antiseptic and antibacterial action.
- Anti-inflammatory action: phenolic, caffeic and ferulic acids.
- Antifungal action
- Anti-viral action: flavonoids.
- Antioxidant action.
The UNESCO MAB programme and Guerlain cooperate within the World Network of Biosphere Reserves to train and support beekeepers and to maintain and develop their know-how. This 5-year programme is part of the partnership initiated between UNESCO-MAB and LVMH, the Group being a partner in UNESCO's intergovernmental scientific programme on Man and the Biosphere (Man and Biosphere). The objectives of the MAB programme are to conserve biodiversity and promote sustainable practices that combine ecological, social and economic dimensions.
The partnership between Guerlain and UNESCO-MAB will focus on four main areas: the training of beekeepers in UNESCO biosphere reserves, the creation and installation of bee farms each comprising 50 hives, technical support and monitoring of operations to ensure sustainable and economically perennial development, and the consideration and measurement of the benefits of pollination in local ecosystems.
The multifunctionality of the role of bees in a territory should therefore be studied on three scales: ecological, economic and social, and biosphere reserves are preferred territory models for these studies and interactions. The five-year project with Guerlain is being developed jointly with MAB National Committees, local biosphere reserve managers and communities.
In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and with a view to preserving the safety of all our partners and players in this formidable project, we have jointly decided with Guerlain to postpone the training of beekeepers initially planned for April-May 2020 by one year. The training of the first class will thus begin in April 2021.
On this World Bee Day, and on the eve of the celebration of World Biodiversity Day on 22 May 2020, it seems even more essential in the global context that we are going through to act together for biodiversity and sustainable development, based on values of solidarity and respect for diversity and life to protect one of the most precious sentinels of our planet: the bee.
The program will promote and protect the key role of bees as pollinators in diverse ecosystems around the world. The transmission of beekeepers’ knowledge and know-how will be facilitated through training and research, to strengthen the link between this vital biodiversity and food security and thus contribute to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. UNESCO is pleased to count on Guerlain's support to act for the planet and future generations.