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 that this idea is possible, but not very plausible. Just like urban gardening is great, it also does not really impact our food cycle to a great extent. Understandably I feel like most people don't have the time or space to really produce very much.
    I think that some places, such as the Urban Farm on the University of Oregon Campus, do a great job of actually producing food and informing students and the community about food. I think maybe having somewhere like that dedicated to bees would be very effective.
    I also do think that some people might be very opposed to urban bee centers, particularly people with children or severe bee allergies. Maybe if the bees were located in rural settings outside of dense urban populations there would not be this issue and the bees would still have the intended positive effect.
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      May 21 2013: Hi Kristin, actually the reason for building an urban beekeeping industry (rather than a rural one) is because bees are surviving better in urban areas, most likely because cities aren't constantly sprayed with pesticides like agricultural fields. In Paris, France there are a lot of bee hives on the roofs of big buildings, like the Opera House and the Grand Palais. I think the reason they put them on the roofs are to keep them away from the public, possibly to reduce risks to those who are allergic.

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      May 21 2013: I might disagree with you, Kristin. I think that bee keeping is actually a very plausible means of increasing food production, both locally, and on a large scale. While many states to have strict regulations regarding the keeping of bees in urban environments, many are beginning to allow the keeping of bees with permits and certain rules. For instance, in Portland, I know that it is okay to keep bees in urban environments with a permit, and in fact my aunt and my brother both keep bees. They're not that much work to keep, they pollenate the fruit trees in the area, and they produce really great honey.

      I think in general, keeping bees doesn't take much time or space, and even if the owner of the bees isn't growing food themselves, if the beehive is anywhere near a garden (even a community one) I feel as though it would benefit greatly from the bee activity.
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        May 21 2013: I am all for grass-root solutions to environmental problems, especially food related issues, but I think in this case it would simply take a very large amount of people participating to make a large difference in the food production system. Some improvement is better than no improvement at all, but I think in this situation the scope of a real solution is a bit limited
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          May 21 2013: Another factor to consider is that amateur urban beekeepers may propagate bee pests, affecting experienced beekepers. The comment linked below warns that ignorant beekeepers may make varroa (a parasitic mite that may be linked to colony collapse disorder) and other pests worse because of poor management practices. If such projects were scaled to the level you suggest may be necessary, there could be unintended consequences.

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          May 21 2013: That's true, urban beekeeping would take a lot of involvement to make a big difference. I do still think it's something worth being encouraged on a small scale. A lot of big change starts with small actions, and who knows? Maybe just a couple people getting bees and showing their friends and family can start something big.
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          May 21 2013: While it's true that it would take a lot of beehives to produce a significantly larger amount of food, even just a few beehives can provide lots of benefits too. Just having one beehive in one garden can increase the amount of food produced in that garden, so that person will be directly experiencing the benefits of the beehive. Not to mention those bees will also pollinate the local plants, contributing to the biodiversity of the area. I feel that beekeeping could become really popular when people begin to realize how beneficial it is and how few the dangers actually are. It might be a slow process, but definitely worth it!

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