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 this is both possible and a great idea. I agree with those who have previously said that it is important for us to also be looking into what the root of the problem is, but feel that the role bees play is so important that maintaining colonies in whatever habitat they will survive in is imperative. From the research I have seen it sounds as if the most likely cause of the collapse is pesticides. Because pesticides impact the worlds biodiversity, the human population, and our agricultural ecosystems in a largely negative way, I personally think we should move away from pesticide use as much as we can. For example reducing pesticide use through supporting urban organic agriculture and small local organic farms. As far as the downsides of urban beehives I don't think that people would really even notice a difference as long as the hives were located in appropriate areas, and as I have always been taught if you don't bother them, they won't bother you.
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      May 22 2013: I agree and think that development and increase in urban beehives is a very intriguing and hopeful idea. Definitely would be a step in the right direction, but I also agree with previous comments that point out it is not necessarily a solution but rather one path to begin to address this massive population collapse. We can’t overlook the fact that there is a much bigger dilemma and we do not have full understanding of the causes behind population collapses or the extent of the implications associated with the population declines. Additionally I feel it is important to look past potential food/pollination decreases and consider what this might say about the overall health of ecosystems. It is always easier stated than solved, but as a community we need to take huge strides to change agriculture practices that are detrimental to biodiversity and healthy/natural interactions amongst organisms.
      On a lighter note here is some local news about bee farming in Eugene and current developments:

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