Farmers urged to use native bees instead of alien species
The Asahi Shimbun by TATSUYUKI KOBORI/ Staff Writer March 25, 2017
A buff-tailed bumblebee, which is designated as an invasive alien species (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
The humble bumblebee, the Japanese species that is, looks set to make a comeback.
The Environment Ministry and the farm ministry are moving to halve the number of alien bee species used for farming purposes by 2020 to prevent more damage to local ecosystems, sources say.
But there's a sting to all of this.
A government survey found that farmers in this country generally believe that the lifespan of Japanese worker bees is shorter and thus the use of Japanese bees results in a poor harvest of crops.
Buff-tailed bumblebees are widely used for pollinating tomatoes grown in greenhouses in Japan, but the ministries want to replace them with Bombus ignitus and other types of Japanese bee. It will distribute fliers and offer subsidies to encourage farmers to make the switch.
The ultimate goal is to reduce the use of alien species to zero.
Buff-tailed bumblebees are native to Europe. They were introduced en masse by Japanese farmers in 1992.
Farmers relied on plant hormones and other materials to pollinate greenhouse crops before bees came on the scene. Natural pollination by bees meant less time was devoted to the task, along with a reduction in the use of chemical pesticides.
Buff-tailed bumblebees that escaped from hothouses or were released after pollination were later found to have taken root in Hokkaido.
In 2006, the bee species was designated as an invasive alien species, meaning that it was effectively banned from being kept in Japan.
Even so, 60,000 beehives crammed with buff-tailed bumblebees are still distributed annually to meet the requirements of farmers who have permission to keep them. The figure is only 10 percent lower than the figure for the most prevalent year.
The widespread use of Japanese bees for agricultural purposes started in 1999, but the distribution of such bees to farmers remains about half that of buff-tailed bumblebees.
The Environment Ministry says farmers' fears about native bees being less productive are groundless.
“Scientific examinations have shown that there are no significant performance differences between alien species and Japanese bees,” said a ministry official.