The United Nations designated May 20 as World Bee Day to raise awareness about pollinators, their contributions and threats they face.
It’s something Ontario beekeeper Andre Flys understands all too well.
“They’re incredibly intelligent, sophisticated creatures, and when you start paying attention to their habits and the way that they work, it’s quite fascinating,” he told Global News from his honey farm in Nobleton, Ont.
One of every three bites of food we eat depends on them, he said. The insects pollinate everything from blueberries to almonds.
“Our shelves and our grocery stores would be a very different place without pollinators out there,” Flys explained.
The third-generation hobbyist beekeeper owns Pioneer Brand Honey and is also the head of Ontario Beekeepers’ Association.
His grandfather, Charles Sauriol, kept bees at the Forks of the Don in Toronto’s Don Valley and received the Order of Canada for a lifetime of conservation initiatives.
“My dad learned from him and I learned from him and we’ve run Pioneer Honey as a commercial venture for the past 12 years now,” Flys said.
But over the years, Flys has had to deal with the plight of bees in a number of different ways.
In 2014, he said he was down to just 200 bee colonies from about 500.
He blamed the deaths of his honeybees and hundreds of millions of bees across Ontario on the makers of pesticides with a neonicotinoid base.
“Bees are just another one of those casualties that they’re starting to add up, you know, where we’re losing forage and habitat for them just like our other species,” Flys explained. “We’re exposing them to pesticides and fungicides and they’re having a hard time surviving.”
According to the United Nations, the absence of an appropriate habitat for bees could lead to a continuous decline in pollination.
Mono-cropping and higher temperatures associated with climate change, the UN notes, are just a few of the contributing factors putting bee populations at risk.
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Flys believes initiatives like World Bee Day, as well as the role all beekeepers play, is vital to keeping the conversation on bees going.
“We work out here with nature,” he said. “We are in touch with how our bees are interacting with the environment on an almost daily basis.
“I think we’re here as a beacon to tell a message about what’s happening to our environment, and I see that as as probably the most important role of a beekeeper nowadays.”