Plants build projects for perfect coexistence between bees and sugarcane crops

Actions with beekeepers contribute to the preservation of pollinating insects; Unica highlights coexistence and biodiversity preservation projects

20.05.2024 | 16:19 (UTC -3)
Union of the Sugarcane and Bioenergy Industry, Cultivar Magazine edition
Photo: Disclosure
Photo: Disclosure

Bees are responsible for pollinating around 90% of native plants and 75% of crops. Therefore, in Brazil, sugarcane plants maintain projects specifically aimed at protecting these insects, in order to guarantee the coexistence of apiaries and meliponaries with agricultural production, as well as to contribute to the conservation of biodiversity and food security. . As a way to celebrate World Bee Day and International Biodiversity Day, May 20th and 22nd, Unica (Union of the Sugarcane and Bioenergy Industry) highlights the importance of this type of project. 

“The projects include actions on different fronts, from safety measures in the aerial application of agricultural pesticides, to the registration and monitoring of apiaries and meliponaries. With the use of technology, new communication resources and socio-environmental responsibility actions, the plants are promoting the harmonious coexistence and preservation of bees”, explains Renata Camargo, Sustainability manager at the entity.

She highlights that, in recent years, Unica has also developed actions with associated plants to encourage good coexistence not only with beekeepers and meliponists, but with producers of organic food and other crops around the plants. The institution directly participated in the creation of the regulations for the Technical Directives of the “Greener Ethanol” Agro-Environmental Protocol, prepared in 2017, in partnership with the Government of the State of São Paulo.

Conscientious application of agricultural pesticides 

Among the initiatives that guarantee the conscious aerial application of agricultural pesticides, reconciling sugarcane production and the protective experience with bees, is the Pollinate Project, by COFCO International. Using cutting-edge technology, the action aims to protect existing beehives around sugarcane fields, in addition to encouraging the creation and increase of bees of native species in nearby communities, thus ensuring the preservation of the local ecosystem, as well as increased productivity of beekeepers for the production of honey and derivatives.

The Pollinate Project identifies and georeferences apiaries that form an agricultural border with COFCO International's sugar cane fields. Subsequently, mapping is carried out via satellite and, after being analyzed by the field team, the data is transmitted to the GPS of the plane responsible for spraying the crops. The aircraft are equipped with a high-precision bomb, which has an automatic locking system when identifying the approach of the hives. Therefore, there is no application of insecticides in places classified as “restricted” areas.

Overall, the project is divided into four fronts: identification of beekeepers for the georeferencing of apiaries; training of beekeepers; mapping of hives for crop and apiary management; and training for agricultural aviation companies with safety protocols, pesticide applicability and development of new technologies. In total, COFCO International has already identified 58 apiaries with more than 5.000 hives, in more than 20 municipalities.

Since the project was implemented, there have been no more reports of bee deaths related to COFCO International's applications in regions close to the company's sugar and ethanol plants, located in the northwest of the state of São Paulo. The project gained international recognition and was presented, as a UNICA case, at the 14th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP-14), promoted by the UN, in Egypt, in 2018.

Half a billion bees saved

São Martinho estimates that, through the Bees Project, which monitors areas neighboring sugarcane crops in conjunction with local beekeepers, it has already guaranteed the protection of approximately half a billion bees, since the beginning of the action , in 2019. The initiative is developed at the company's four units, with 169 registered beekeepers and 477 mapped apiaries, with more than 313 thousand hectares being monitored within its management area, within a radius of 6,0 km around it. The key to the project's success was the investment in new communication technologies.

“The Bees Project, in partnership with a company specialized in the relationship between agricultural production and bee breeders, is a continuous action to preserve pollinators around the four São Martinho units. The total control and management of the applications carried out by São Martinho, associated with the continuous, fluid and constant communication between our technical staff and beekeepers in the region was fundamental to guarantee the effectiveness of the project. It was necessary to make them understand how sugarcane is managed so that, together, we could guarantee the best joint management of activities”, reports André Tebaldi, Environmental Advisor at São Martinho.

The company identified beekeepers from areas neighboring the units and carried out work to help improve the spatial distribution of apiaries through the use of georeferencing. The plant also used technology to communicate with beekeepers, issuing alerts about spraying, informing when pesticide applications are scheduled. Through registration and access to a specific application, they receive, at least 48 hours in advance, notifications of activities that may impact apiaries in the monitored regions.

“Since 2019, the intensification of management and communication with beekeepers in the region has resulted in a significant improvement in indicators, with no type of bee mortality identified since then. This project directly contributes to the balance of ecosystems, as bees guarantee important genetic variation for the development and reproduction of plants. In this way, São Martinho also reinforces respect and social responsibility towards communities, contributing to solidifying social entrepreneurship, says Tebaldi.

Socio-environmental gains

The Honey Cycle Program, developed by São Manoel in partnership with the Botucatu Beekeepers Association, represents a complete sustainable cycle, as it works to preserve biodiversity, strengthens the economic activity of local beekeepers and benefits children and young people served by a social project present in the community. Currently, 600 bee boxes are installed in 535 hectares of native vegetation preserved by São Manoel, and in the last year alone, associated beekeepers produced approximately 1.8 tons of honey in these areas.

By inserting bee boxes in the company's native vegetation areas, the program made it possible to create a biological indicator that ensures that sugarcane management is carried out responsibly by the plant. “As the species is very sensitive, healthy coexistence demonstrates that the application of agricultural pesticides is carried out within the legislation, guaranteeing the protection of bees and, consequently, that pollination levels are sufficient for the persistence of the ecosystem’s biodiversity”, he explains. Moacir Fernandes Filho, director of São Manoel.

In addition to the environmental benefits, the Honey Cycle encourages regional beekeeping, offering legal support to formalize the activity and access to credit. All beekeepers associated with the program are registered with the Agricultural Defense Coordination of the State of São Paulo and certified with SISP and SIPAF (Family Agriculture seal), which allows honey producers to sell the product at a fair price, in addition to enable expansion into new markets.

In return, the Beekeepers Association is committed to transferring annually to São Manoel the amount corresponding to 1kg of honey per hive installed. The amount is donated in full to Casa Santa Maria, a non-profit institution that works to protect and support socially vulnerable children and adolescents in the city of São Manuel, highlighting the company's commitment to the surrounding community. Among the direct beneficiaries of the project are 16 beekeeping families and 120 children who are assisted by Casa Santa Maria.

Preservation, training and environmental education

Since 2019, Tereos has maintained the Beekeeping Project, an initiative that encourages respect for beekeeping and environmental education. The project promotes environmental awareness activities for children and adolescents and also carries out various actions with registered beekeepers, such as training and qualifications that seek to increase the quality and productivity of apiaries. Since the beginning of the program, more than 430 apiaries and 50 beekeepers have been mapped and registered.

In the 23/24 harvest, the company held a series of workshops on the importance of bees for preserving biodiversity and protecting the environment in schools in the region where its industrial units are located, around São José do Rio Preto (São Paulo ). The activities, which involved several demonstrations and even honey tasting, were aimed at students from schools in Tanabi, Olímpia, Guaraci and Barretos in partnership with the Kombee Project, which travels around the country on top of a stylized Kombi, raising awareness among the population about the importance of bees for agriculture and the environment, using stingless bees native to Brazil.

Tereos also opened a Bee Hotel last harvest in the seedling nursery it maintains at its Cruz Alta unit, located in Olímpia (SP). Provided by the BeeCare Program, Bayer's global platform, the hotel consists of a honeycomb-shaped wooden structure that can house solitary bees, which do not produce honey, but are of great ecological and pollinating importance.

“Bees are fundamental to our ecosystem and ensuring their preservation is extremely important. We maintain close contact with beekeepers around our units and sugarcane fields to provide training and guidance. We also participate in awareness-raising activities with schools in our community, showing students the importance of bees for the environment”, comments Rafaela Shiota, environment manager at Tereos and one of the project leaders.

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