From 6th till 12th September FEAST researcher Max Spiegelberg attended the 15th COLOSS Conference along a record 154 participants, and back-to-back the 46th Apimondia International Apicultural Congress with the theme “Beekeeping within Agriculture” in Montreal/Canada. COLOSS (Prevention of Honey Bee Colony LOSSes) is a honeybee focused research network which aims to explain and prevent massive honey bee colony losses with 1,275 members from 95 countries and started out from Europe already 14 years ago. The Apimondia International Apicultural Congress is a global, biennial conference by Apimondia, the International Federation of Beekeepers’ Associations bringing together this time 6,000 researchers, beekeepers, extension officers, and traders from around the world.
During the COLOSS conference it was announced that a Memorandum of Understanding had been signed with Slow Food International (Japan Branch: Slow Food Nippon), which is a major player in the local food movement and aware of the important role pollinators play for agriculture. Furthermore the different existing core projects and task forces on topics like pesticides, treatment-free colony survival, the spread of the Asian hornet Vespa velutina in Europe, viruses, honey bee nutrition, and science-practice outreach, reported about their activities, events and plans for the coming year. A wide interest on networking, applying jointly for funding in various directions, and joint publications exists. This brings about possible opportunities for us as FEAST project, but also in general for any other honeybee researchers and beekeepers in Japan and Asia.
At the Apimondia Congress, I presented to an audience of a few hundred people the approach our FEAST/RIHN bee-team has taken over the past 2 years. The presentation titled “Engaging bee-stakeholders for a bee-friendly Kyoto: A transdisciplinary research process” gained a lot of interest as there were very few other presentations that included the Asian Honeybee A.cerana, that were from a social science-humanity (non-natural science) angle, and that looked at the situation in Japan.
Besides the presentation attending the Apimondia Congress also offered the opportunity make new and strengthen old connections with colleagues from various countries in one place. Furthermore, it is a good chance to hear and see the latest research directions and findings on posters, in presentations, or at panel discussions. The following are my personal take away points with relevance to our FEAST approach:
● Critique on the current global, especially North-American food system, was raised prominently at several occasions and backed up with solid science. The detrimental effects of agricultural pesticide applications and landscape changes continue to be documented, while alternative practices that thrive with biodiversity and secure the existence of pollinators such as agroecology and extensive beekeeping are being recognized.
● The usual practices of Japanese hobby beekeepers as we find them in our research are close to what keynote speaker Tom Seeley calls ‘Darwinian’ or ‘Apicentric-Beekeeping’ and Nicola J. Bradbear (Bees for Development) ‘extensive beekeeping’, which is also practiced in many other parts around the world. In contrast to the widespread, industrial western beekeeping those are locally adapted in relation/context/dialogue with the landscape, done with local bee species’ (not the western Honeybee), and more sustainable.
● There is a growing number of beekeeping projects around the world especially in cities which look beyond just the hive ecology and honey and take the social and psychological dimensions of the people and environment around a beehive into account. The presenters highlighted the great individual and societal benefits the engagement with bees for their communities and the environment has. You can find one of them in Vancouver here.
● Honey fraud is a big problem worldwide, but the means to investigate it are also improving. Federico Berron (Mexico) showed, that none of the 5 cheapest honeys of each country acquired in supermarkets in the UK, the US, and Japan actually contained any honey and Dr. J Tian (China) found in her research on honey sold in China labelled as cerana honey for price premiums, that only 15% of the 71 tested honeys were from the Asian bee and almost all were in fact honey from A. mellifera and a few no honey at all. For the consumer this means that buying locally produced honey, ideally from a beekeeper directly or a specialized store can reduce the chance of being cheated. The establishment of monitored labels, independent laboratory testing, and more comprehensive databases can strengthen the consumer’s, but also the beekeepers position.
● Research from a natural science perspective is dominant and focus on the western bee, used as livestock in the industrial agricultural context, continues to be the prime focus of most talks, but the understanding for the need to look beyond is growing. A shift in the setting of research agendas and funding calls remains necessary.
● The number of Japanese participants was basically not existing! In contrast, all the other East Asian countries were well represented from the scientific, practitioner and business-oriented sides. Considering that excellent work is being done in Japan and Japanese Bee honey has good potential as an organic product this should change.
Some notes to be added in the end, Montreal appeared as a very livable city with lots of greenspaces, street trees, and small gardens at the family housings. The mental foundations for this were laid with the World Expo in 1967 that visibly included Buckminster Fuller’s sphere or ‘Geodesic Dome’ as American Pavilion and the architect Moshe Safdie’s housing complex Habitat 67 which included for every apartment a terrace to be able to experience the outside world. Also, separate lanes and free parking for bicycles, as well as an extensive share bike system exist in large parts of the city.