The sweet buzz

What is a beekeeper doing in downtown Milan?

It’s a Monday in late March, it’s warm. In the Segantini Park, among the trees within the naturalist area, green with the first shoots of spring, a group of volunteers closely follows Luciano Mazzola who has brought four beehives.

Luciano Mazzola shows a honeycomb with many bees.

Two families will produce honey, and the other two will also serve to monitor air quality, which will be carried out thanks to the collaboration with researchers from the Catholic University of Piacenza.

The Project is call BeeResponsible and is financed by Dyson, a company that has found a smart way of doing corporate social activity.

A small group of interested people will follow a course with Luciano and will accompany him during the care visits to the hives. If everything goes well, at the end of this experimentation year, the hives will stay at the Segantini park. Here, it will be possible to taste the honey from the flowers of the park and also from the balconies of the Milanese people.

Bees feed on flowers within a radius of 3 km, so anyone with a flower on their balcony can help feed these fascinating creatures that, in addition to producing honey, pollinate plants better than any other insect.

Once the hives have been moved, the group moves under the pergola of one of the vegetable gardens within the park to listen to the first of a series of lessons on the life of bees and the management of a hive. The age of the people in the audience is diverse. There is even a child who ask his mother whenever he does not understand. He feels that something important is being talked about.

In the Segantini Park, Luciano tells about the life of bees and the management of a hive.

Did you know, for example, that in 2018 Europe banned neonicotinoids pesticides widely used in agriculture that also kill bees? Therefore, we hope to see more beehives in the Po Valley. 

Luciano explains that during their evolutionary path, bees have learned to communicate to their mates the location of the flowers thanks to a “dance” in which they explain the direction and distance of the feast. Bees are orientated with the position of the sun. You can find many videos on YouTube that explain and interpret this “dance”.     

We also discovered that, in their two months of life, the bees carry out a rotation of the work of the hive: in the first weeks, they perform domestic tasks of cleaning and caring for the eggs, then the guard of the door, and finally, when they are mature and well trained to smells, they go out to look for nectar from flower to flower.

European honey bee: Apis mellifera (collector)

The queen, on the other hand, lives up to five years and, after the nuptial flight in which she is impregnated by a dozen drones (who die after the act), she lays eggs throughout her life.

People that have sweet tooth for honey will be interested to know that some jars sold at very low prices may contain something other than honey. In fact, for honey to be considered as such, must be produced by bees that pass the nectar from mouth to mouth in a practice called trophallaxis that enriches the nectar with enzymes that also allow bees that do not leave the hive to feed.

Luciano and Paolo prepare the four beehives that will be guests of the Segantini Park.

Other fan bees will help reduce the moisture of the nectar below 18% to turn it into honey, a food that can be stored for a long time.

In other parts of the world, it is allowed to collect nectar from hives and transform it into honey in factories with the addition of sugar, which for obvious reasons produces a much less nutritious and balanced food.

The subspecies raised in Italy is called the ligustica bee and is known around the world for being gentle and non-aggressive, so don’t be afraid of them.

Before leaving us, Luciano recommended a book: “The Buzz about Bees” by Jürgen Tautz that combines a practical approach with a more philosophical one accompanied by beautiful photos.

The meeting is over. It is sunset and we leave with a feeling of harmony and interconnection between us, the bees and the flowers. Tonight at home we will look at the flower on the balcony with new eyes. We will know that we are involved in the world of bees and that we collaborate with them in the dissemination of plants and the health of the planet.

Bee feeding on a hawthorn flower (Crataegus monogyna).

This is the first of a series of posts where we will talk about bees, stay tuned!

By Xavier Vigorelli

Natural resourses: LIMITED!

As we saw in post 2, to produce food, natural resources (air, water, soil, biodiversity) and energy are needed. Food production is just one of the many human activities that have an impact on the planet’s limited resources.

Regarding food, are we consuming more that the earth produces? Is there enough food to feed everyone?  

Today we produce food to feed 10 billion people1 for a planet which is currently home to around 7.7 billion.2 No wonder every year we waste ca. 1/3 of the food produced (post 3)) and 1.9 billion people are overweight!3.  And still, there are 821 million undernourished people!4

Domingo de los Colorados, Ecuador, medium and large companies produce tropical fruits such as pineapples for local and international markets. Most of them are grown as monocultures. They represent a source of income and food for families in the area. Photo by Karla Gachet.

To understand why this happens, it is important to learn about two concepts which are key for sustainability: Biocapacity and Ecological Footprint.

Biological capacity

Earths Biocapacity is a quantitative way of measuring the natural resources that the earth produces each year (in global hectares or gha) to allow human life (clean water and air, biodiversity, healthy soils, shelter and medicines).5,6,7

It refers to the amount of productive area that is available to generate natural resources and to absorb the waste (ecosystem services).5-7.

The calculated Biocapacity for year 2007 was 1.8 gha.5-7

Ecological Footprint

The Human Ecological Footprint is a quantitative way of measuring the demand that human activity puts on nature. It refers to the consumption of productive land (resources in gha) of each person (biologically productive land and water area required to produce all the resources an individual, population, or activity consumes, and to absorb the waste they generate).5-7

The calculated world average Ecological Footprint for year 2007 was 2.7 gha.5-7

At the individual level, the Ecological Footprint refers to: the food we eat (energy, land, water, biodiversity), the water we use and the energy we consume (at home, to move around, to work, to live!).

Biocapacity, Ecological Footprint and Population

From the numbers above, it becomes evident that in 2007, our global consumption (Ecological Footprint: 2.7 gha) is much higher than the earth’s capacity to recover (Biocapacity: 1.8 gha).

To live sustainably, our Ecological Footprint (that of all humanity) should never exceed the Biocapacity of the earth.

The figure below shows the Ecological footprint and Biocapacity from 1960 to 2010 and the population growth up until 2019.

In 2007, humanity used resources equivalent to one and a half planets. If the trend continues, by 2050, 2 planets will be needed.5-7

Humanity is already using more resources than the earth can regenerate. This is known as overshoot, and each year this occurs, the biological debt increases with extreme consequences such as the loss of diversity (biological and cultural), migration and climate change. And the population keeps growing…  

A stall selling fruit and vegetables at the La Vega Central market in Santiago de Chile also known as “Feria Mapocho”. From the colonial time, farmers gathered in the area of “​​La Chimba” to sell their products. Photo by Karla Gachet. The full story can be found here

Are we all using resources in the same way?

Well, the Biocapacity and the Ecological Footprint are not the same for all people in all nations. The Global Footprint Network provides online data clearly showing the situation of all countries in the world. Let’s take, as an example, the year 2016. In 2016, the Biocapacity and Ecological Footprint in the United States were 3.6 and 8.1 gha (-4.5, deficit), in Italy 0.9 and 4.4 gha (-3.5, deficit), in China 1.0 and 3.6  gha (-2.6, deficit), in Brazil 8.7 and 2.8 gha (+5.9, reserve), and in Gabon 22.1 and 2.3 gha (+19.8, reserve).

This means that from these 5 countries, only Gabon and Brazil would have natural reserves to consume what they do and more. However, in a global scale, Gabon and Brazil are unwillingly using their resources to maintain the lifestyles of overconsumption of USA, Italy and China.

In 2007, the 5 countries with the highest Ecological Footprint were: United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Denmark, Belgium and United States, while the countries with the highest Biocapacity were: Gabon, Bolivia, Mongolia, Canada and Australia.7

Learn more about the global situation and find out about the situation in your own country using the interactive online platform of the Global Footprint Network. It’s really worth checking out!

With all this information, it seems that Ecological Footprint is related to human wellbeing, wouldn’t you agree?  

The town of San Miguel is at the crossroads of the Cayapas River and San Miguel in the province of Esmeraldas in Ecuador. San Miguel is like an island in the river and it takes hours to get there by canoe from Borbón. From here they get “verde” (green cooking bananas) that they sell in Borbón. Photo by Karla Gachet.

Human Development and the Ecological Footprint:

Human Development can be ranked using the Human Development Index (HDI). The HDI is a number calculated based on life expectancy, education and per capita income of a person in a country.

The United Nation Development Program defines a high level of development with HDI scores of 0.8 or greater.7  

Considering again the data from 2007, in an ideal economic, social and environmental planet, all countries should have a HDI equal or higher to 0.8 and an Environmental Footprint that would not exceed 1.8 gha (or the earths biocapacity).7 

No country on earth meets both conditions.

Interestingly, low-income countries which have abundant natural resources (high Biocapacity) have too small Ecological Footprints to meet the basic needs of food, shelter, health and sanitation of their populations.

The woman drinking mate in the photo is Doris Peranchiguay. Doris lives with her family on the Island of Teuquelin in Chile. Like many of the island’s families, they live off the potato harvest. Photo by Karla Gachet.

Humanity faces two big challenges:

  1. for highly developed countries, to maintain peoples well-being reducing the demand on nature and
  2. for developing nations, to guarantee the well-being of society without increasing Ecological Footprints.

Every person on the planet has the right to live better. However, the well-being of human societies depends of biological capital (Biocapacity) and therefore, human comforts (security, material needs, health, social relations, etc.). We must consider effective long-term resource management in order to address and reverse ecological degradation.7 

To delve deeper into this topic, we recommend that you read our post that talks about Environmental Justice.

But, how can we explain that resources from low-income biologically-rich countries are being used to satisfy other countries’ demands? Is this land grabbing?

Land grabbing

Land grabbing is a process (usually violent) in which fertile agricultural land is privatized, usually for food corporation and mining companies. The GRAIN organization alerts that this global land grab could represent the end of small-scale farming, and rural livelihoods, in many places around the world.8

Using the data of GRAIN, Baveye et al., have published a map of the worlds land grab in 2008 which shows that China, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and other countries own vast amounts of land abroad. For example, China in 2008 owned ca. 2 million hectares distributed in Philippines, Laos, Australia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Cameroon, Uganda and Tanzania.9   

It would be useful to see what is going on today. To learn more about this argument, check out the publications from GRAIN. They are well worth a read!

If the land no longer belongs to the people living there, or even the country, what happens with the rights of those people and with their well-being? What happens with the land and the ecological services nature provides?    

View of a shrimp farm on the way to Bolivar in the province of Esmeraldas in Ecuador. Shrimp farmers began to gain ground in Bolivar to the point of depriving the community of the right to their own mangrove. Maria (cover photo), along with other shell women, faced powerful people. In the end they were able to stop the expansion of the shrimp farms and save part of their mangrove swamp. Photo by Karla Gachet.

Human well-being and natural resource  

Human well-being depends on biodiversity (species richness and rarity, biomass density, primary productivity and genetic diversity) and the services that a healthy ecosystem provides (food, water, fiber, medicine, energy, spiritual, ethic, climate regulation, energy and matter exchange, etc.). 7

All human economic activity depends on nature. It’s estimated that, globally, nature provides services worth around US$125 trillion a year.6

Unluckily, biological diversity is being lost. For example, the loss of animal diversity, measured using Living Planet Index between 1970 and 2014, shows that the overall species population of vertebrates has declined 60% (89% loss in South and Central America). The loss of fresh water species was 89%.6

For more information on endangered species, have a look the website of the IUCN Red List, which is a critical indicator of the health of the world’s biodiversity.

A healthy planet has enabled development of modern human society. Would it be possible to continue human development without healthy natural systems (biodiversity)?

The answer depends on us and on our capacity to change, adapt and create!

We are the first generation that has a clearer picture of the value of nature and the enormous impact we have on it.6

And why not begin with the understanding of our own personal situation!

In Topanga, California, Karla and her family are making a small vegetables garden during the quarantine caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo by Karla Gachet.

Personal Ecological Footprint

The Ecological Footprint is different for every person. It is related to individual actions. Even within a nation, the Ecological Footprint is not the same for all.

People that buy food from abroad and travel a lot by car and plane have a higher Environmental Footprint than people consuming locally produce food, preferring moving by bike/public transport/walking and rarely flying.

There are online platforms that help to calculate our personal Ecological Footprint. However, we recommend that you search for a local platform within your city or country as they might include local parameters (energy, water, transportation and waste). Give it a try!!

Let’s calculate our personal Ecological Footprint together

We found a very interesting study from Legambiente, an environmental Italian association, analysing the ecological footprint of the city of Padua.10 This study provides a Table for a first calculation of the personal ecological footprint in a month in area (hectares, ha) from kilograms (Kg) of food consumed, kilowatts (KWh) of energy used at home and kilometres used in transport (Km).

We have reproduced the excel sheet from this study (download here). If you wish to help us, please download the sheet and send the completed version with your personal results via email (alimentosverdaderos@gmail.com) sharing with us your name and country from where you are sending it. If we reach a significant number, we will share the results in a post! 

This global problem is not new. In 2015, 193 countries belonging the United Nations countries, together with 150 leaders around the world, have agreed upon 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) to be met by year 2030. These goals aim to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all.11

Sustainable Development Goals

As shown in the figure bellow, the 17 goals put at the base, the importance of protecting nature to build a healthy society that will support a fair economy.

If we work together to achieve these goals, things will start to improve. Let’s give it a try!!

Importantly, all of these goals can be achieved by improving the food system. Food can be a good starting point to make changes. We all eat and our food choices have a direct impact on economy, society and the environment.

Achira and Chinese potato (malanga) stew accompanied by mustard greens, grown in Huerta Luna and prepared by chef Javier Farraye on Santa Cruz Island, Galapados, Ecuador. This producer-chef alliance is a proposal that wants to encourage the population of Galapagos to consume locally produced food, reducing the demand to import vegetables from the continent.

To better understand the impact of food on sustainability, the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition has created a Food Sustainability Index. Data from 67 countries regarding food loss and waste, sustainable agriculture and nutritional challenges were analyzed and scored. The top 3 performing countries having policies and showing best practices in 2018 were France, the Netherlands and Canada.  It is possible to check out the results and the scores of the participating countries –  maybe yours is on the list!

BBC Mundo has published a very interesting article regarding this topic which includes an online calculator showing the environmental impact of 34 common foods and beverages. They remark that the Ecological Footprint depends not only on the food, but also specifically how and where it was produced. This is really worth checking out!

Conclusions:

Human well-being will not be possible without preserving nature (ecological resources and services) which sustain economy and life.

However, as natural resources become scarcer than money, prosperity will depend on resource accounts (biocapacity) as much as it depends on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and other financial values.

A new way of thinking and revaluing nature (healthy ecosystems) and the services they provide should be considered. It is amazing how many new business opportunities are being created valuing all resources of the ecosystem and being respectful with nature and with people.

And of course, now that you know all of these things, try to make an effort to more thoughtfully choose what you eat, how you move and how much energy and water you use. Our interest, creativity and willingness to make little changes can and will improve things. Let’s give it a try:)

By M. S. Gachet.

REFERENCES:
1 Holt-Giménez E., et al. 2012. We Already Grow Enough Food for 10 Billion People … and Still Can’t End Hunger
2 Data World Bank. Population
3 WHO. Obesity and overweight
4 UN. Food
5 WWF. 2018. Living Planet Report 2018 (Full report)
6 WWF. 2018. Living Planet Report 2018 (Summery)
7 Global Footprint Network 2010. Ecological Footprint Atlas 2010
8 GRAIN. 2008. Seize: The 2008 land grab for food and financial security
9 Baveye, P.C., et al. 2011. From Dust Bowl to Dust Bowl: Soils are Still Very Much a Frontier of Science
10 Legamabiente. The Ecological Footprint of the city of Padua
11 UN. Sustainable Development Goals