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The specialist international beekeeping organisation
Pollination is the mechanism that allows us to harvest crops and seeds throughout the world. It has been estimated that 35% of the human diet depends on insect pollination. All species of bees are pollinators providing a pollination service for farmers and growers. In most developing countries producers enjoy this service freely from the natural populations of honeybees and other pollinators that are available in the area - which is why habitat protection is so essential. We take this 'service' for granted at our peril. Beekeepers add significantly to this pollinator population and so offer a valuable service to farmers helping to enhance local food security.
Commercial pollination extends this service more formally to large scale growers whose crops require pollination. Some crops are sufficiently valuable and pollination gives sufficient crop increase for the farmer to pay for pollinators. Commercially produced kiwi fruits in New Zealand and almonds in the United States of America are examples of this. These crops generate many millions of dollars for those economies and are both entirely depenedent on honey bee pollination. It is a feature of more intensive, monoculture style agriculture, which while not always being a desirable methodology, nevertheless is a worldwide phenomenon.
Commercial pollination services in developed countries are mostly provided by honeybees through a long-standing and well-organized market. Honeybees are used most often because they form large colonies, persistent from year to year, that are relatively easy to transport. Beekeepers who have agreed to a pollination contract temporarily move their colonies into the crop that needs pollinating and are paid a cash amount for doing this by the crop grower. In many countries, this is required because large areas of monoculture cropping have developed and natural pollinators are frequently insufficient for full pollination of the crop. The introduction of honeybees helps to mitigate deficiencies in this style of agriculture. In some cases, mostly greenhouse pollination where the glass screens the plants from environmental pollinators, other species of bees are used.
Moving bees about subjects them to stress which can affect their disease resistance and long term survival. Recently, large scale losses of honeybees have made people realise that more thought needs to be put into the methods used for commercial pollination.