Tens of thousands of bees die every year in Russia. Lawmakers, farmers and climate change are to blame
Bees are dying en masse in almost all regions of Russia. According to the Beekeepers Union, in 2022, the losses exceeded 20,000 bee colonies. The main culprits are greedy agricultural holdings and incompetent legislators.
The Ufa Research Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences has recorded a spike in bee deaths since 2017, Kedr.media reports. Scientists blame this on the increase in rapeseed, used for biofuel production and as animal feed. Since 2000, the area under rapeseed in Russia has increased by more than 14 times, with 44 per cent located in Siberia, where climate change has made its cultivation possible.
Rapeseed is more profitable than wheat, but it's too attractive for pests. To preserve their crops, farmers treat the field with increasing doses of chemicals up to five times per season. For example, farmers control cabbage moths with pesticides based on fipronil, malathion, diazinon, chlorantraniliprole and emamectin benzoate. Some are considered probable carcinogens, while others cause headaches and vomiting.
By law, farmers must warn beekeepers at least three days before the impending treatment of fields with highly toxic pesticides so they can close the hives or transport the bees to a safe place. In reality, this is rarely happening.
Plus, it is complicated for beekeepers to recover damages for lost hives, while fines are too small for agricultural holdings. And sometimes federal legislation only worsens the situation of bees.
In the Altai Region of Russia, there are 200,000–400,000 hives. Back in 2010, Altai beekeepers successfully lobbied for adopting a regional law on the placement of apiaries. This legal framework led to an increase in the number of apiaries, and for the first time in Russian history, farmers began to pay beekeepers for pollination.
But in December 2020, State Duma deputies adopted the federal law “On beekeeping”, which contradicts many sanitary rules and by-laws. The new law, for example, allowed pesticides to be sprayed 300 meters from populated areas.
Today, beekeepers insist on a complete ban on Class I and Class II (highly toxic and toxic) pesticides, as was done long ago in European countries. They propose to use biochemical pesticides that are safe for humans and bees but merciless to pests.
A few months ago, I made a video about the human relationship with bees. Have a look here (in Russian).
Elia Kabanov is a science writer covering the past, present and future of technology (@metkere)
Illustration: Elia Kabanov feat. MidJourney.