Business has been bad for Ilog Maria Honeybee Farm’s Joel Magsaysay. Not because Ilog Maria products aren’t selling—they have had to ration their honey so more customers can take home a bottle or two—the problem is that three years ago, his bees just disappeared without a trace.
It’s called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), and it’s a global phenomenon. Magsaysay says that the US alone has lost around half of its bees to CCD. US De- partment of Agriculture estimates are slightly more conservative but no less alarming, with 36% of some 2.4 million hives gone. The UK hasn’t fared much better, losing a fifth of its bee hives in 2008. Cases of CCD have also been reported all over Europe.
“The whole world is losing all its bees,” the Philippines’ foremost beekeeper says, and nobody quite knows what’s going on. Scientists have pointed at everything from parasites to diseases to mobile phone signals, but the real cause could be all of these, or just as possibly, none of these.
What does the mysterious loss of a few million beehives have to do with you? Just about everything, as it turns out. “About 60% of what we put in our mouths is dependent on bee pollination,” says Magsaysay, and if more bees keep disappearing, we will be faced with a colossal food crisis. He says that the US is already in the middle a fruit famine, and things are likely to get worse.
With no Seinfeld-voiced cartoon to explain where the bees have gone, Magsaysay decided to revive his hives himself. Believing that “any human activity that interferes with the natural life of bees” contributes to CCD, he has spent the last three years “erasing the foot- prints of habitation.”
He buried the farm’s power lines, started harvesting rainwater, and now uses the sun to heat and melt beeswax for Ilog Maria products. He has started cooking with wood and charcoal on a smokeless stove, and the farm’s vehicles have all been converted to run on liquefied petroleum gas, alcohol, or used cooking oil.
The bee farm is now also partially powered by solar panels, and has a windmill that Magsaysay hopes to turn into a wind turbine someday. He says that the drastic changes seem to have worked, and that he and his family have started harvesting honey again.
The bee farm, and some 3,000 hectares of land around it, may be abuzz again, but Magsaysay says that things may not improve for all that. The best that the farm can do is reduce overhead costs and “better our survivability.”
While he may have been referring to keeping his business alive, Magsaysay says that everyone should be “gearing up to survive,” what with the world undergoing economic and environmental crises. With water, food, and fuel crises threatening to join the party, he says it’s time for people to stop talking and start acting.
The debates on climate change, for example— whether it’s real, whether it’s caused by man or is a natural phenomena—is just so much fluff as far as Magsaysay is concerned. “That’s beside the point,” he says. What’s important is that the world is changing— aside from rising sea levels and extreme weather events, flowers now bloom out of season, a possible cause of CCD—and we must do “everything we can do to stop climate change.”
The key word here is do. “We blame everyone but ourselves,” he says, and put too much stock in political messiahs to save us. Meanwhile, we wait for the gov- ernment to solve all our problems, and then curse it when it fails to do so. What people do not often see is that they are equally responsible for how things turn out. After all, Magsaysay says, “If you want change, be the change.”
The simple solution of installing a catchment sys- tem to harvest rainwater would have helped avert the water crisis that has forced the government to ration water, and is killing crops all over the country, he says.
He adds that planting on even just a 4-sq.m plot of land could provide daily harvests of vegetables. “Then we wouldn’t be so worried about a food crisis.” Added benefits to self-reliance? A smaller environmental foot- print and less trips to the supermarket. It’s easy to dis- miss simple tips like these and downplay their benefits, he says, “but if everybody did it, then there wouldn’t be a crisis.”
Filipinos tend to wait for crises to come before doing anything, he says. And if that’s what it will take for the country to start taking responsibility for itself, maybe we’re due a famine or two.
Print ed: 04/10