In ancient times, indigenous people used their most primitive knowledge, their intrinsic connection with the nature, when they wanted to collect honey from the woods. Shaman, a type of priest from the village, used to go to the woods at night and connect himself with the sound made by bees in a swarm. The honey collected was wrapped on a banana leaf, and he always kept some of it for the forest spirits.
This story was told by the researcher from USP (University of São Paulo), Vera Lucia Imperatriz Fonseca, during her presentation on the webinar “Polinizadores da Amazônia” (Pollinators of the Amazon), that happened on September 30, for employees and scientists who are partners of ITV DS. Vera Fonseca has illustrated her lecture “Abelhas e o bem-estar humano” (Bees and human wellbeing) like this on the webinar, focusing on the importance of the knowledge we have today about these pollinators:
“ITV works so much on this knowledge. The transformations that are going to happen in this decade, and will help us to reach the nature in a different way, are going to need very reliable data, and that is what ITV provides”, she says.
And which work ITV DS is doing with bees, animals that are so essential for the survival of people and biodiversity on the planet? Who answers this question is the Institute’s researcher, Tereza Cristina Giannini:
“There are several different initiatives. A line of our work on ITV consists in studying interactions between bees and plants, understanding the pollinators role on the nature and its biodiversity and understanding all that may be potentially affected by climate changes”, she explained.
The work, performed in Carajás region, has three other focal points. One of them is to research how these interactions may help the recovery projects of degraded areas due to mining activity. There is still another research about the landscape connectivity issue, since Carajás is isolated from other protected areas, because restore natural environments and increase connectivity are essential to help species to face climate changes.
Another focus is the pollination issue for the food production, an important research line that helps to understand the dependence of agricultural production by pollinators.
“In order to do this, we have analyzed the cultures produced in the state of Pará, and we are working along with Fundo Vale on agroforestry systems initiatives, mainly based on cocoa”, the researcher explains.
This project enables the socioenvironmental business generation, producing income for local communities. Besides, we also have the initiative of a stingless native bees biofactory, that aims to multiply the colonies of these species and donate them to communities around Carajás.
Thus, these studies contemplate the pollination role regarding the standing forest and the human wellbeing, current demands, according to Vera Fonseca.
“Only if the ecological system walks along with the social system, it will be possible to keep humankind on the planet”, she remembers.
Keeping an eye on the partnership
There is no need to look further in order to find good successful examples of when the human being and the nature respectfully live together. The agriculturist Rosenir Ferreira de Souza, currently treasurer of Filhas do Mel da Amazônia (Amazon Honey’s Daughters) association, celebrates the fact they ran out of their honey stock last year. Due to the pandemic scenario, a lot of people started to want to eat natural, healthier food.
Filhas do Mel exists for seven years but, for now, the associates are commercializing individually. Rosenir thinks the research made on ITV DS and the potential partnerships are important:
“Scientists can teach us about genetic improvement and help us to emphasize the importance of meliponiculture for family agriculture. They can help to identify types of plants that provide propolis, because it is also a great product to commercialize. We also need to build a honey extraction facility in order to make the certification”, she says.
One of the few institutes that works with bees aiming the community development in Pará is Peabiru. João Meirelles, general director of the entity, was also invited to talk on the webinar “Polinizadores da Amazônia”. Meirelles ratifies the need to think about people wellbeing in order to make sure that nature is being respected.
“What we do at Peabiru is only one thing: strengthen the capacity of the communities. People also learn several things, including to engage with themselves. There is a case of a woman who told us that, after she started to produce honey, she has something to talk about with her husband. There is another case of a 4-year-old child who told her mother that she wants to a keep a box of bees for when her little sister is born. To me, this means result”, he says.
João Meirelles feels like he is doing a painstaking work to help communities. And he realizes that, in this sense, there is a difference with ITV DS that, for him, “is doing a high science work”. However, there is a wide field to establish partnerships in order to leverage the study of bees.
“There are few people, in civil society, who are trying to invest, for instance, in taking off the bees’ barcode. We really need science, because this is a brand new topic”, he says.
Tereza Cristina Giannini, researcher from ITV DS:
“A big part of food production depends on the pollination”
In what way the ITV DS scientific studies are contributing to the pollination in Carajás?
Tereza Giannini – We have several different initiatives. A line of our work is studying bee/plant interactions, in order to understand the pollinator’s role regarding the flora. And understand how these interactions may be potentially affected by climate changes. The other line is trying to know how these interactions may help the recovery projects of degraded areas due to mining activity. We also study how bees, in Brazil, help on food production. A fourth line is the landscape connectivity, because Carajás is isolated from other protected areas, and we are creating possibilities and ideas to connect it with other areas.
Why is it important to make these studies about bees?
Tereza Giannini – Most of the plants which produce flowers depend on bees for this kind of pollination. That means: without pollination, the formation of fruits and seeds is not going to happen. The reproductive success of many plants depends on pollinators and depends mostly on bees. So, if we think in terms of nutritional quality, human feeding, a big part of food production depends on the pollination. But it is important to remember that pollination may also depend on other animals – as other insects, birds and bats.
What is the contribution of ITV DS scientific work concerning the loss of biodiversity?
Tereza Giannini – Inside ITV DS, what we are analysing is the interaction data between animals and plants, which is a very rare data. Usually there are lists of species that occur in two locations, but there is no data about who interacts with who. So, first we organize a list of bee species for Carajás, which also did not exist (it was published for the first time in 2021) and, besides that, we are collecting data in field. The interest is discovering which bees visit each species of plants in order to make interaction networks. This is a contribution. Another contribution is trying to understand which will be the potential impact on climate changes and which will be the priority areas in order to try to ensure that species have protected areas, matching with locations where the weather will be appropriate for them. The third contribution is understanding the role of pollinator bees in recovery strategies for degraded areas and which plants may be a priority for recovery projects, aiming not only the recovery of vegetation for those fields, but also the recovery of interactions.
How to deal with the sad scenario predicted by IPCC scientists, which foresees more extreme events in the future?
Tereza Giannini – Any activity or initiative that aims to conserve, restore or protect the species needs to be based on knowledge. So, first of all, it is necessary to understand the biodiversity of natural areas. Second of all, to understand how it can be threated by global changes in order to design efficient solution proposals.
João Meirelles, director of Peabiru Institute:
“ITV can help us with scientific monitoring”
What is the work of Peabiru Institute with bees?
João Meirelles – We develop very simple technologies in order to work the issue of honey production with traditional communities. In fact, what we do is the technological development on field. We are implementers. On this region of Pará – we work in northeast of Pará, in the coastal region of Palma – we are one of the few who work with bees.
How do you realize the importance of this work for communities?
João Meirelles – There is a strengthening of communities. People learn a lot, including social relations. I have heard from a woman who started to be a producer that now she has something to talk about with her husband. I also heard from a 4-year-old child who told her mother that she wants to a keep a box of bees for her sibling. To me, this means result. By talking about bees, people are relating, thinking collectively. The bee is an environmental educator. Of course, income is also important: there is a fantastic article which shows that 80% of cocoa and acai berries income comes from the pollination. And we do not pay for pollination.
How a partnership with ITV DS would be?
João Meirelles – I usually say that ITV does a high science work, while we do a painstaking work on the field. So, researchers can help us with scientific monitoring because ITV can check if the bees are healthy, and we do not have someone to do that part. Our inventor, for instance, invented a spot from the box which you can take honey and, instead of taking one kilo, you can take six kilos. With the help from ITV, we can think about this scientifically. Besides, we can implement models that might escalate, because we can work with only thirty families.
How many bees are we talking about? João Meirelles – There are two thousand species of stingless bees in the world, and Brazil has approximately 300, the most part in Amazon and Pará. Just for you to have an idea: a degraded pasture has no bees; a well preserved forest has from thirty to fifty species and a fairly preserved forest has only four or five species. The investment in bees to recompose the soil increases the chances to succeed. It is not for nothing that UN chose the bee as the most important animal of the planet.