Bees: much more than honey

Known for being extremely hard-working and closely associated with delicious honey, bees can be spotted wherever there are flowers and plants, with their yellow and black stripes standing out. Although their sharp sting may cause some fear, having bees around is a positive sign – bees, and other pollinators, are directly or indirectly responsible for 75% of all food worldwide.

Bees are pollinating insects, which mean they are responsible for transporting pollen from plant to plant – this transportation from a male plant to a female plant allows fertilization that will lead to fruit, seeds and more plants, ensuring the balance of the ecosystem and the variety of food available. Pollination takes place at the level of the plants that serve as food for animals, and at the level of the fruits and vegetables that we eat.

Did you know?

Without bees, the future of food could be compromised. Nutritious fruit, nut and vegetable crops would have to be replaced by crops such as rice, corn and potatoes, contributing to an unbalanced diet.

The importance of bees extends to the environment, as they are key to promoting biodiversity, serving as biological environmental indicators, helping to combat and prevent soil erosion, and are also responsible for absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen.

The products that bees provide

Whether through pollination or directly from the hive, bees provide us with a wide variety of products:

  • Honey

    A natural sweet substance produced by bees with the nectar they collect from flowers. It contains enzymes that can help digestion and can be used to speed up the healing process of the skin.

  • Wax

    A fatty substance secreted by bees and used to build the honeycomb. It is used in a wide variety of products, from candles to cosmetics.

  • Royal jelly

    Due to its healing properties, it is used as a food or as a tonic to fight ageing and strengthen the immune system.

  • Propolis

    A mixture of tree resin and bee secretion, prized for its antibacterial and antifungal properties.

Which country produces more honey?

In 2022, almost two million metric tons of honey were produced in the world. The country with the highest production was China – it produced more than 461,000 metric tons of honey.

Our bees are disappearing

There are more than 20,000 species of bees buzzing around all over the world – Europe is “home” to around 10% of all species of this small flying insect. Despite their importance, according to the IUCN European Red List, one in three species of bees, butterflies and hoverflies are disappearing in the European Union. In turn, one in ten species of bees and butterflies are threatened with extinction.

There are several reasons why bees and other pollinators are under threat:

  • high temperatures, droughts and floods caused by climate change disrupt ecosystems and alter pollination seasons;
  • intensive agricultural practices and the use of pesticides reduce populations;
  • deforestation “annihilates” their habitats;
  • pests and diseases caused by globalization and the consequent ease of transmission over long distances.

What is being done to protect bees?

Recognizing the importance of bees, the European Union has implemented various measures and initiatives, such as banning the use of pesticides based on neonicotinoids, a chemical that is very harmful to these small insects. In 2023, the European Commission presented a new plan to reverse the decline of pollinators by 2030. The priorities are improving knowledge about what is happening to pollinator populations, improving species conservation and promoting the mobilization of society.

Beehives in Europe

In 2020, there were 8.1 million beehives on EU farms. Romania led the way with 1.5 million hives. Portugal was in sixth place with 0.7 million hives. Regionally, Extremadura in Spain had the highest number (over 300,000 hives), followed by the Portuguese region of Norte (over 250,000 hives).

Bees are so important to the planet that, in addition to efforts to preserve and renew populations of these animals, scientists are developing robotic bees. These are small autonomous drones that will be responsible, among other things, for replicating the behavior of real bees and carrying out artificial pollination.

Jerónimo Martins protects pollinators

Committed to respecting the environment and biodiversity, the Jerónimo Martins Group supports various institutions in all the countries where it operates. In Portugal, to preserve bees, the Group has joined forces with Quercus, supporting its SOS Pollinators project since 2014. Among the various initiatives, hotels for pollinators and corridors of flowers for bees are built and workshops are promoted in Portuguese schools. In Colombia, the Group also supports an association dedicated to protecting bees and raising awareness of their importance in ecosystems – Fundabejaz. Sugar is donated as a source of food for rescued swarms.

Discover more Jerónimo Martins Group’s projects to support biodiversity.

Curiosities about bees

  • Bees work throughout their lives, which are not very long – the average lifespan of a bee during the working season is one and a half months; during the resting season it is two and a half months;
  • It takes 556 bees to produce 500 grams of honey;
  • A colony is made up of around 15,000 bees during the spring and around 80,000 bees during the summer;
  • There are certain foods that are 100% dependent on pollination – almonds are one of them; onions and pumpkins are between 90% and 100% dependent;
  • They fly at around 25 km per hour and beat their wings around 200 times per second;
  • Every year, on May 20, World Bee Day is celebrated to pay “homage” to these little insects and increase the buzz about the importance of preserving them;
  • As soon as they use their sting, bees die.
Bees in a flower field