TED Conversations

Carly Otis

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Can urban beehives increase food production?

It has been estimated that somewhere between fifty and ninety percent of the colonies of bees in US beekeeping operations have collapsed from a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). This disorder is characterized by the disappearance of bees from a colony, but a lack of dead bodies to explain where they went. Some scientists believe that the culprit is a virus known as the Israeli acute paralysis virus (Cox-Foster et al, 2007). CCD is causing the collapse of bee colonies all over the world, reducing pollination rates, and causing essential food sources to become more scarce and more expensive. Noah Wilson-Rich, a scientist who studies bee diseases, has suggested an easy solution to the problem: urban beekeeping. In his Ted Talk “Every City Needs Healthy Honey Bees”, Wilson-Rich shares that bees are actually surviving better in urban environments than rural ones. He suggests that increasing the number of urban beehives, along with introducing green roofs and urban gardens, will allow food production to begin to increase (while also reducing the prices of many crops). In many cities in the United States it is illegal to have a beehive because people are allergic and/or afraid of bees, but in some countries urban beekeeping is thriving (Paris, France is a great example!). 

Do you think it is possible for the United States to develop an urban beekeeping industry? Would it have enough of a positive outcome to outweigh the downsides of urban beehives?



Closing Statement from Carly Otis

After much conversation, I think it is safe to say that most people think that urban beehives will have a positive influence on honey bee populations and biological diversity in urban environments. However, many people pointed out that this will not solve the issue of colony collapse disorder that is facing bees. Much more research needs to be done to determine what the true culprit of this phenomenon is (possibilities are neonicotinoid pesticides, varroa mites, Israeli acute paralysis virus, etc), but in the meanwhile urban beehives can help to maintain populations. It was mentioned a few times throughout the conversation that many people will be opposed to the introduction of urban beehives due to the rather large portion of our society that is afraid of and/or allergic to bees. To get around this, many people suggested that schools implement some sort of program to teach the public that honey bees are actually nothing to be afraid of, and that they will only harm you if you harm them. In addition, keeping beehives in places that are out of public view will help to alleviate some issues relating to neighborly disputes and accidental stings. One good technique is to place hives on rooftops, which will force bees to fly at a higher elevation and reduce the amount of bee-human interactions. Another issue with urban beekeeping is that there are much fewer food resources for bees in urban environments than rural ones, so it was decided that an urban beekeeping industry will only be successful in places where urban gardens and/or green roofs are also successful. Overall, it sounds like urban beekeeping has a good chance in the U.S., as long as we begin to educate people about honey bees and how critical they are for food production.

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    May 21 2013: I think it would be possible for the US to develop an urban beekeeping industry if there truly was a demand for it. However, it is currently illegal in many cities do to the potential risks associated with bee-sting allergies. I find this to be ridiculous, as the potential benefit of producing food in your own backyard outweigh the unsustainable practice of shipping food thousands of miles from farms to cities

    But changing the agricultural practice we use would be a very slow process. Redesigning urban façades around the U.S., implementing green roofs, and changing city code to allow beehives within cities would be a long process that needs input from the constituency for it to be politically feasible.

    Thus, it may be better to first understand why CCD is occurring to preserve the managed/unmanaged hives that we have. Honeybees themselves enable the production of 90 commercially grown crops. With their rapidly declining numbers, we really need improve information gathering as to why they are declining first, before we move to a more sustainable practice of urban beehives and urban farms.
    • May 21 2013: Yup. I'm on board with the Idea of preserving the colonies we have and agree that we need to find what is causing the CCD. I think its best to try and figure out what happening with the bees we do have left, like you said, before moving on to things like the urban farms. Granted I think that there will most likely be a need for them down the road. I think it is vital to help the ones we do have now and figure out what is destroying them now. I just think that if we put all efforts into into the urban farms will the CCD just move to those farms from the hives we have now if they aren't taken care of?

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