Source: Nature: "Silence of the Bees"
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When Chinese farmers in South Sichuan Province, the largest producers of pears in that region of China, alerted the government to the absence of bees and that the year's crop was endangered, the government's unprecedented response was to insist on hand-pollination. Meanwhile, farmers in the United States, faced with the same dilemma, wonder if this method will someday, too, be their fate. This video segment adapted from Nature: Silence of the Bees discusses the impact of the bees’ disappearance, as well as the effects Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has on pollination and the world food supply. For more about bees, see the video segment, "Colony Collapse Disorder.”
Life science, biology, geography
The following Frame, Focus and Follow-up suggestions are best suited for middle school students using this video in an English language arts or science lesson. Be sure to modify the questions to meet your students' instructional needs.
What is Frame, Focus and Follow-up?
Frame (ELA) What does the phrase “cause and effect” mean? What are you looking for when you answer a cause and effect question?
Focus (ELA) What is the effect of the disappearance of the bees? What specific problems does it create for people?
Follow Up (ELA) Describe the cause and effect relationship of Colony Collapse Disorder and the food supply. Supply reasons for your ideas about the impact the disappearance of the bees could have.
Frame (SCI) What do you know about pollination? Why is it important?
Focus (SCI) What steps do the farmers of South Sichuan Province in China take to address the problem of CCD?
Follow Up (SCI) Review the approach Chinese farmers use to pollinate the pear crops. Is this a practical solution? Why or why not? Should this method be used in other countries? Why or why not? Offer solutions.
NARRATOR: For many people around the world, the potential impact of Colony Collapse Disorder is difficult to fathom. The loss of fruits, vegetables, even forage crops, essential for meat and dairy cattle.
DENNIS VAN ENGELSDORP: Basically, flowering plants evolve with bees and so they need each other in order to survive. So without bees or any of the other insect pollinators, you won’t get any fruits and you won’t get any vegetables. What you’ll be left with are all the plants that are wind pollinated, unless you can hire hundreds of thousands of people to hand pollinate these crops.
NARRATOR: Southern Sichuan Province. In the rural county of Hanyuan, pears are the local calling. Pear orchards carpet the mountains down to the foot of the valley and in the center of town, the pear goddess bestows an eternal blessing on the yearly harvests. It seems to work. Hanyuan produces eighty percent of the pears in the region. Each year in August, the trees hang heavy with fruit, individually wrapped before harvest, to protect it from insects. A typical family will harvest around five tons of pears. But it isn’t bees farmers have to thank for the abundant crop. The bees here disappeared long ago. In the early 1980s uncontrolled use of pesticides wiped out the local bee population and killed off the pollinating plants that feed them. Fruit production plummeted and local farmers watched their livelihood vanish before their eyes.
CAO XING YUAN: I wrote a letter to Beijing and they wrote back and said, “You have to hand pollinate, because the insects used to do it, but they have been killed off by pesticides, so now you have to do it.”
NARRATOR: Now, each year in April, farmers must play the role of honey bee and it’s not as easy as the bees make it look. They start by collecting and preparing the pollen by hand. They scrub the antlers, the male part of the flower, for their pollen and dry it for up to two days. When the pollen is ready, the human pollinators go to work. Dr. Tang Ya from Sichuan University has been studying the pollination process used by the farmers in Hanyuan. Today he has come to see the fruits of their labor.
DR. TANG YA: When I first heard about this I didn’t believe it. This is work normally done by nature, by bees.
NARRATOR: With nothing more than a stick of bamboo and some chicken feathers, farmer Cao Xing Yuan conjures up the fuzzy body of a bee. With a dip of pollen, a light touch is just enough to pollinate the blossoms. Every spring, hundreds of workers take to the trees and pollinate the pear flowers blossom by blossom. A hive of bees can pollinate up to three million flowers in a single day. A human can only pollinate up to thirty trees. It is a painstaking and expensive substitute for a service that bees once provided for free.
CAO XING YUAN: I wish it would go back to the natural state. I wish the bees would come back because this is a really difficult situation for us.
NARRATOR: To replace honey bees with human pollinators in the United States would cost more than ninety billion dollars a year. And even here in Hanyuan hand pollination may not be sustainable for long.
DR. TANG YA: For the farmers doing hand pollination it’s still feasible, but now China is changing very fast. Most of the young people are heading to the city. I think in not such a long time, ten to twenty years, hand pollination will be very difficult.
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