May 20th is World Bee Day, celebrated when bees in the northern hemisphere begin to reproduce and bee products are harvested in the southern hemisphere. It is also a time to consider the alarming state of the global bee population and what it means for the planet and our food supply.
“We’re losing honey bee colonies at an unprecedented rate globally. Just 40 years ago, the annual colony loss rate was a mere 3%. Today, it’s more than 35%. When this rate surpasses 50%, the world will be unable to sustain the bee population,” says Saar Safra, CEO and co-founder of Beewise, an Israeli startup determined to save the bees.
Beehome is Beewise’s newly designed beehive that includes precision robotics, computer vision and AI. It enables constant monitoring of the bees, using AI to observe their needs in real-time. Beewise does not alter what beekeepers traditionally do. Rather, it augments their work by upgrading the traditional, 150-year-old beehive.
It’s beekeeping at scale, as Safra describes it: “Beewise’s Beehome provides 24/7 monitoring and smart technology that significantly increases pollination capacity and honey production; detects threats to a honeybee colony such as pesticides and the presence of pests and immediately defends against them; responds to threats in real-time and requires no human intervention; is thermally regulated; protects from fires, flooding, and Asian Wasps or murder hornets; and provides enhanced feeding techniques for when forage is not available to the bees.”
A third of all the food produced in the world is pollinated by bees. Furthermore, 71% of the crops of vegetables, fruit, seeds and nuts are pollinated by bees. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) has estimated that in 2016, between $235 billion and $577 billion worth of annual global food production relied on direct contributions by pollinators.
What’s killing such an important component of our food supply? Intensive agriculture, widespread use of pesticides, pollution caused by waste, new diseases and pests, urbanization, and climate change. A long list of factors which will continue to reduce the bee population unless beekeepers get the help they desperately need.
Beewise currently manages more than seven billion bees, which equates to 25,000 acres of pollinated crops. The company estimates that with Beehome has saved over 160 million bees over the course of the last 12 months. Last January, Beewise announced a $80 million funding round, led by Insight Partners, with participation from Fortissimo Capital, Corner Ventures, lool ventures, Atooro Fund, Meitav Dash Investments Ltd, and Sanad Abu Dhabi. That brought Beehive’s total funding to over $120 million.
“Our results speak for themselves. Beehome reduces bee mortality by 80%—from 35% colony loss in the field to less than 8%—resulting in increased yields of at least 50%. And Beehome eliminates approximately 90% of manual labor compared to traditional beehives,” says Safra.
For beekeepers, some of them a second or even a fourth generation managing bees and beehives, a solution that saves their business comes as a great relief, promising to reverse the alarming trend.
Expressions of relief will be heard not only from beekeepers. According to the USDA, one colony of honey bees is worth 100 times more to the community than to the beekeeper.
It is a shining example of using AI and cutting-edge technology to augment—and in this case save—a traditional industry which plays a very important role impacting the quality and quantity of what we eat.