Last year beekeepers reported over 500 million bees had died in Brazil in only three months, with evidence pointing to the soaring use of pesticides in farmlands to explain this level of mortality. This is alarming news, considering also other reported threats against these indispensable pollinators.
Bees have been at risk in Brazil not only due to the use of chemicals in agriculture but also because of strong fragmentation and degradation of biomes such as the Atlantic rainforest, one of the world’s top biodiversity hotspots. This ecosystem, which once constituted Brazil’s coastal landscape, is home to plant species considered of high value for indigenous bees.
In Rio de Janeiro’s surrounding dense Atlantic jungles, seaside borders and agricultural pockets – bees often make their appearance unexpectedly in houses and commercial buildings, escaping from endangered traditional habitats. Despite their priceless services for the urban flora, bees are usually unwelcome in the city, where residents and tourists chase them away or even kill them whenever hearing their buzzing wings.
Erivaldo da Silva Pereira (cover photo) is a 41-year-old beekeeper who provides solutions for both indigenous bees and those who prefer them out of sight. He works saving apiaries while protecting households unwillingly hosting them across Rio de Janeiro – be it in the luxury houses bordering the city’s forests or in the poor favelas built over hills once covered by vegetation.
“People find my number online and I go to remove the swarm. I tell them to stay calm and don’t kill the bees”, says Erivaldo, whose 20-year experience allows him to remove the bee hives all by himself. When he finds the hives, he brings the bees to his small farmland in São Pedro da Aldeia, a municipality two hours away from the city of Rio de Janeiro, where he travels every week to take care of his small farm production and of 20 bee boxes.
In his farmland in the countryside, which borders a small riparian forest, Erivaldo seeks to maintain a well-balanced environment that can support his small production while respecting nature. “One contributes to the other. It’s thanks to the local flora that my bees grow happily. And it’s thanks to my bees’ pollination that local flora is doing fine”, he says.
To boost this virtuous circle, Erivaldo is making small investments in a bee-friendly plantation. He has planted around 600 lime trees as well as oranges, bananas and pumpkins. “I aim to establish an agroforestry system that can develop year-round flower diversity for pollination. While some seasonal periods may not be good for a certain flower, they can be ideal for another,” he says.
Erivaldo says that being a beekeeper producing healthy food has always been his passion. However, living his dream requires strong determination: “It’s hard work. Every day, all year round. We don’t always have electricity to do irrigation, so we depend on the rain”.
As a family farmer, Erivaldo shows concern about the use of chemicals by industrial monoculture: “Many farmers in Brazil use pesticides that kill the bees. People often think bees are only for honey production. They forget that bees are essential to life on earth. We need pollinators to provide us with healthy food to live longer and stronger”.
Bees and other pollinators are recognised for their role and contribution to food security and nutrition as well as sustainable agriculture. According to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), 75 per cent of the world’s food crops and nearly 90 per cent of wild flowering plants depend, to some extent, on animal pollination.
At a time where our precious pollinators seem to be increasingly at risk of disappearing, offering them safe havens can prove to be greatly beneficial for their local environment and for making agriculture and food systems more sustainable.