Thursday, July 21, 2011

Tokyo Ginza's most cherished treasure

My immersion in the world of Japan's honeybee colonies and the challenges of their conservation ended yesterday with a visit to a honeybees farm located on top of a building in Ginza, Tokyo's equivalent of New York's Fifth Avenue.

Ginpachi, the Ginza Honey Bee Initiative on the  terrace of a fourteenth floor building on Ginza Chuo-ku is ran by an NGO that seeks to educate people to the importance of protecting bees. The Ginza district  is famous worldwide for hosting Tokyo's highest concentration of wealth and luxury items, with international fashion and design retail shops, fancy restaurants and expensive department stores everywhere. The natural wealth cherished by the beekeepers in the middle of so much artificial wealth is a striking and inspiring contrast. With nine colonies of European bees (40,000 bees per colony; European bees were introduced in Japan in the Meiji era at the end of the 19th century) and eight colonies of Japanese bees (10,000 bees per colony), Ginpachi produces per year approximately 1.7 ton of honey which is used and sold  in the pastries section of the nearby Matsuya Department Store in support of the project. Ran by fifty people, the project started in 2006 and gets visitors almost every day. The honey from Japanese bees is very tasty, but their production is 20% less than European bees'.

My main reason for coming to Japan this month was to give my two-day advocacy teach-in course to a group of Japanese farmers, beekeepers and environmentalists to help them, at their request, develop a strategic framework for their campaign against the use of neonicotinoid, the pesticide which is thought to devastate honeybee colonies. Over the years, I've given my advocacy teach-in course  in the various languages that I speak and on various continents, adapting it to the needs, objectives and focus of the very diverse organizations who've contracted me for it. But -- although I've travelled frequently to Tokyo in the last few years -- adapting it to the cultural circumstances of Japan was a good challenge and I'm glad the participants' feedback was excellent.

Before I worked on this project, I was of course already aware that several issues were causing honeybee colonies collapse disorders worldwide, and that it could become a severe food security and biodiversity conservation issue worldwide, because of the important pollination function of bees in nature. During my preparations, I found out  that the statement attributed to Albert Einstein that if honeybees disappear from our planet humans will disappear four years later is a mysterious urban legend, apparently. But, still, it's a good one.