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 22 2013: Yes, I do think it is possible for the U.S to allow urban beekeeping. As we know, honeybees are playing vital role in our ecosystem since they are responsible for pollinating flowering plants and crops. Plants require these process to reproduce, thus the increasing number of urban honeybees will definitely sustain our food supply chain. Many people will consider the downside of urban beehive such as allergic or sting. However, bees seem do pretty well in urban environment. According to bee expert Noah Wilson-Rich, he reported in his article
    (http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/cities/urban-beekeeping-keeps-cities-healthy/4768) that 62.5% of urban bees survive the winter compared to only 40% in rural area. The yield of honeybees in urban is also great higher. This phenomenon may due to “mono crop” in rural area, which make bees become “mono pollen diet”. Pollen can provide nutrition to bees in order to maintain good health. Bees in rural area are susceptible to parasites or less pesticide use due to its unbalanced diet. CCD may be one result of this. The variety of plants and flowers in our urban garden, roads can give a potential better chance of survival of bees in urban area. City can provide a rich diversity of pollen to bees and keep them in good health. If we can keep beehive in the appreciate place, such as roof terrace, house garden or an allotment, the downside of bees will be avoided. Currently, there are many designs for urban beehive and I really like the Phillips urban beehive. It is an environmental friendly and sustainable product. It has an entry for bees with flower outside and also contains a glass vessel with honeycomb frame inside. Here is the Phillips urban beehive design: http://www.design.philips.com/philips/sites/philipsdesign/about/design/designportfolio/design_futures/urban_beehive.page

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