The United Nations celebrates 20th May as World Bee Day to raise awareness on the importance of pollinators, the threats they face and their contribution towards sustainable development. Let us take the opportunity to learn about the most talented, organized, disciplined and crucial species of our planet from Devendra Jani, the founder of Bee- The Lead, a bee conservation initiative to transform human behavior towards bees.
DJ’s journey towards bees
Devendra Jani or DJ is a Pune based telecom product manager who turned towards Bee after he failed to grow tomatoes in his balcony. “I have been inclined towards gardening since childhood. As I grew older the urge to grow my own food became stronger with the alarming use of poisonous chemicals and pesticides. I made a bottle tower from used bottles and fit it on my window. I started getting a supply of ginger, moong dal, chilly, spinach, tulsi and mint in my bottle tower. However, I faced issues growing tomatoes since the plant was suffering from a flower dropping syndrome, where the flower was not converting into fruit. A quick search made me realize that bumble bees, the best pollinators for tomato plants, were not flying high to my fifth floor apartment. This got me interested in bees and secrets of their world. I ended up visiting the Central Bee Research and Training Institute in our city where I learned amazing facts about bees. I was also afraid of bees but it changed my point of view towards them and inspired me towards the mission of saving Bees. That’s how ‘Bee- The Lead’ initiative was born,” he described.
Bees are to be loved and not feared
While talking about the usual fear people have towards bees he said, “As humans, we have fear of many things. There are some who fear dogs while some are very friendly towards them. Similarly with bees, if we are afraid of them we secrete pheromones which are not good. However if you do not care that bees are there, they will never harm you because they are very busy. “Bees do not have food in the rain and in winters. So they have to collect their food only in the initial spring or summer season for the whole year. If we disturb them, they feel threatened and get aggressive. In such circumstances it is their natural response to bite for the sake of survival,” Jani explained.
“Bees are lovely creatures. They are very friendly and they can be our pets,” he added. Many keep bees as pets, farmers keep bee boxes to ensure that they get good yield. There are also bees which are sting-less.
Devendra Jani has converted more than 10,000 citizens from Bee-fearing to Bee-loving. He takes sessions in schools, colleges, and corporates to sensitize youths about bees and also educate farmers to practice bee-centric natural farming.
Did you know bees get Vaccinated too?
Last two years we have heard about social distancing, sanitization, and vaccination. It is surprising to know that bees have similar behavior on health and hygiene. Bees live in larger groups and share food mouth to mouth. But they have astonishing methods to defend against diseases and stop them from spreading. They spray the hive with antimicrobial resin to avoid any infection spread. Propolis is the perfect sanitizer for their hive.
Virus-Infected Bees practice social distancing with the help of pheromone. The infected bee avoids close interaction with their healthy counterparts inside the hive. Again healthy worker bees can smell the infected larvae and remove the broods from hives, to avoid spread of diseases.
The Queen Bee also vaccinates eggs with fragments of proteins from disease-causing pathogens before eggs are laid. Nurse bees pass the antigens to the Queen for inoculation into her eggs via royal jelly. Nurse bees also feed the larva for the first few days. This way they are getting vaccinated twice – by Queen and by Nurse Bees. Isn’t that amazing!
The importance of having an oxygen rich body and healthy lungs is being emphasized everyday during these tough times. Breathing exercises and Pranayama are coming to our rescue. “If you thought drawing inspiration from bees is recent, then let me share that 5000 years old yoga has also taken inspiration from bees”, emphasizes Jani. Notably, the Bhramari Pranayama or Humming Bee Breath helps lower one’s blood pressure, thus relieving hypertension. It also releases cerebral tension. Hence it is recommended as a nightly routine yoga for better sleep. It is estimated that humming increases the endogenous generation of nitric oxide level by 15-fold. Bhramari by enhancing the expression of Nitric Oxide and increased Carbon dioxide by extended exhalation and alkaline pH prevents coagulopathies and morbidity from Covid-19.
Government efforts towards bee centric natural farming
The union government has started the National Beekeeping and Honey Mission to motivate farmers towards bee-keeping. It is also seen by the government as a means to increase farmer’s income. Farmers are trained in bee-keeping and free bee-boxes are provided to them. However it faces some challenges in execution.
“The government is putting up a good effort in initiating bee-centric farm-friendly projects. However its implementation would lag if the farmers are not coming forward to reap the benefits.” Some farmers are afraid that if they keep bees, the bees will take away all the nectar from their crop and their crop yield will come down. “This is an old misconception. Farmers should instead let bees come into their farms so that their flowers can get converted into fruits after pollination,” Jani explains. It is proven that crop yield increases 80 times if bees are involved in pollination rather than air or other insects.
Some farmers even after getting into beekeeping are not able to sustain them. Bees either die or fly away. So they consider it as a false project. “They do not realize that bees need to have a conducive environment in the farm. If you spray chemical fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides they will fly away.” Unless farmers understand that they need to cultivate using natural bee-friendly methods it will be challenging to implement the project on ground. Moreover due to lockdown the reach of the Honey Mission project has reduced. Instead of physical training, Devendra continued taking online Bee Keeping training of farmers.
Devendra Jani is associated with Bee conservation projects running at the Khadi Gram Udyog center at Pune. He is also working with the Garden Department at Pune and helping them come up with honey-bee friendly parks. These days, cities are safer for bees compared to rural habitat where mono crop cultivation is practiced along with usage of pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
“The city gardens are one of our oxygen centers. If the garden is not honey-bee friendly they will fly away from our city as well. The solution is very simple. We should not use any chemicals in our gardens. Also we should not burn the dry leaves since bees do not make hives if there is too much smoke. Moreover, we should have a small water-body in our gardens and grow only native bee-friendly plants so that bees can have some food and water when they are migrating and taking rest,” he suggested.
At the gardens of Pune bee-nests will be designed with the help of logs of wood or old bamboo with holes exclusively for the native or solitary bees. “Moreover we would also inform the visitors about different species of bees to build awareness,” he added.
Looking beyond honey bees
We have mostly known about social honeybees which live in hives and produce honey. However, there are more bee species which live a solitary life. These solitary native bees are estimated to do better pollination than social honeybee species. “With focus only on honey producing bees, these indigenous species are in danger. The government needs to take steps for the protection of indigenous bees before it is too late,” urged Devendra.
Blue Banded Bees are amongst our most beautiful native bees. “They are my favorite,” Jani said. These bees can perform a special type of pollination called ‘buzz pollination’. Some flowers hide their pollen inside tiny capsules. A Blue Banded Bee can grasp a flower of this type and shiver her flight muscles, causing the pollen to shoot out of the capsule. Bumble bees also pollinate using this mechanism. Another species, Cuckoo Bees have evolved the brood parasitism behavior of laying their eggs in the nests of other bees, reminiscent of the behavior of cuckoo birds.
Inspiring kids to be bee-friendly
In schools, DJ runs a ‘Tree Friend’ project for small kids. He managed to reach out to youths with online sessions and Insta live conservations during lockdown. “Kids have friends and also pets, they call friends. When I ask them, do you have a tree friend they are almost star-stuck. Students are taught how a tree can be their close friend, how they help us in many ecological ways and are then given a bee friendly plant like neem, almond, drumsticks to nurture for six months. Moringa or drumstick is the best plant which flowers throughout the year. Kids take care of the plant and flaunt it to others as the sapling being their friend,” DJ informed.
“My only hope is children. If we educate them correctly it would not be difficult to achieve our objective of a cleaner and greener earth. I find kids are more empathetic towards bees than adults who already have their conceptions. It is difficult to change human behavior after it is solidified. When these kids grow up they will have a soft corner for these tiny insects,” he explained.
For a greener bee- friendly India
Devendra Jani is presently running a mission to cut down pollution to benefit humans and bees as well. While talking about soil pollution he said, “If we practice natural farming we will stop producing cancerous food. It will help us to produce ‘anna’ and farmers will actually be ‘annadata’ because the food we would produce would have the right nutritional value and it would also be beneficial for the bees,”
Jani is also trying to reduce water pollution. Every year after monsoon he conducts a river-cleaning drive. Participants can see the amount of plastic that is being thrown into rivers which acts as an eye-opener and are motivated to change their behaviour. “We have only 3 percent of fresh water on earth. The rate at which we are polluting our rivers is adversely impacting us, more so as the water is also used for irrigation. Moreover if we pollute the water the bees will have no water to drink,” he lamented. “To mitigate air pollution, planting native trees is the cheapest and simplest solution. But planting trees is not enough; we need to take care of them for a minimum six months. Otherwise the mortality rate of these young saplings is almost 95 percent,” he notified.
DJ feels all of us can do something on an individual level to make a difference. For instance we can provide some food for them by growing mustard or some bee-friendly plants in our pots; we can also make bee baths. “It only needs some pebbles for the bees to land because bees, despite being innovative and smart, cannot swim. We can shift towards organic food and start to question where the food is coming from. This will indirectly pressurize farmers not to use chemicals. Lastly we can support local beekeepers and organizations involved in bee conservation,” Jani said.
At a time when the impact of climate change is most evident across the globe, Jani says, “Saving native Bees is not a mere need of hour, but critical for human existence.”