TED Conversations

Carly Otis

This conversation is closed.

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.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb

    Eun Min

    • +2
    May 21 2013: It is possible, but not sure for the health issues and safety. Yes, honey bees are so important in food production that "A third of all our food is pollinated by honey bees (1)." Without bees, agriculture would not succeed which means no vegetables, fruits, and grains leading increase in prices. Natural honey is widely used as folk medicine that the use of natural honey as a nutraceutical agent is associated with nutritional benefits and therapeutic promises (2). Despite these benefits, having urban beehives might be dangerous (what if one gets stung) or give some people a bad allergic reaction.
    While I was search about honey bee, I found a interesting article (tips on how to start urban bee hive) (3). I am surprised that bees and hives are commercially available to anyone. However, people who want to have urban beehive need to learn how to regulate the bees and protect others from the bees. What if the bees attack people especially children? Honey bees built a hive on my roof two years ago which was scary and the bees tried to attack my family whoever they see near by the hive.

    (1) http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505263_162-57577668/deepening-honey-bee-crisis-creates-worry-over-food-supply/
    (3) http://www.urbanfarmonline.com/urban-livestock/bee-keeping/start-beehive.aspx
    • thumb
      May 21 2013: I spent some time trying to find specific studies about the risks of beekeeping and couldn't find anything good. I appreciate your anecdote but do you know for sure that they were honeybees? Is it possible that they were wasps or yellow jackets? From what I've read, it sounds like honey bees are pretty docile.
      • thumb
        May 21 2013: I found an article that talks about some risks and how to avoid them. The first aspect they discussed was making sure you have all the legal aspects taken care of before beginning an urban beehive project. Some homeowners insurances do not cover beekeeping and even risk being cancelled, so it is important to address this before getting started. Other possible legal issues could arise from bee waste, which is acidic and will take the paint off cars, sides of houses or stain clothes on a clothes line. Or what if your neighbors dog is stung and has to get medical treatment? Who is liable then? Another point they made that I hadn't considered was the amount of water used by a colony of bees. A colony needs over a gallon of water per day and if you don't provide this then issues could arise from the bees using water sources elsewhere such as peoples pools, birdbaths, sprinklers, etc. However, these seem like minor risks that can be managed by providing the colony with everything they need and locating them in an area that minimizes interactions with people.
        • thumb

          Eun Min

          • +1
          May 22 2013: Wow! Thank you for all the information. I haven't heard about the need of water and creating acidic environment! As you pointed out, I worry about being stung especially children and babies.
    • thumb
      May 21 2013: The possibility of colony infestations is a large problem when homes are living in previously natural environments. However, i think that these installations of bee colonies might help to subdue random colonies from appearing. if we are giving bees a place to congregate especially on high roofs of urban city buildings then they will be more inclined to stay near their colonies and away from other residential areas. Yes they will still be present and could threaten people or children, but these dangers are present for every thing and that's why in cities we would have good regulation of bee colonies and keeping them located in safe locations away from large groups of people and especially children.
      • thumb
        May 21 2013: I think it’s very important to create a more robust beekeeping industry in the United States. It’s very hard to pin point one key reason for colony collapse disorder due to an assortment of many threatening factors. Multiple factors harm bee colony health creating compounding effects leading to collapse. There is increased loss due to Varroa mite and diseases such as Israeli Acute Paralysis virus. These however, might be natural occurrences to keep population sizes in check. The real issues may be from human caused disturbances and pesticide use. Foreign chemicals sprayed on plants and flowers expose bees to poisons causing decreased fitness and physiological problems. Humans also can be blamed for habitat fragmentation as well as habitat loss. Bees may be able to cope with a few of these problems before the stresses become too great to sustain a healthy colony. Although we can name factors that hurt colony health there is no consensus on what causes this collapse disorder, just speculation. I think that before we implement specific strategies for “saving the bees” we need to do more research on which factors impact colony health the most.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.