Bees don’t lie, says Bach Kim Nguyen, who wrote his PhD dissertation on the reasons behind bee colony collapses and co-founded BeeOdiversity in 2012 to create unique data sets that can help save the bees.
Bees all work together to support the hive. Each of the 50,000 bees in a colony have a role to play. “They’re a good model for us,” he says.
And of course, bees are essential for our food supply. Of the 100 crop species that provide 90% of food worldwide, 71 are pollinated by bees, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.
BeeOdiversity was born out of the shared desire of Dr Bach Kim Nguyen, Michaël van Cutsem and Emmanuel Lion to protect bees and their ecosystem by using the capacities of social entrepreneurship. Bach Kim, an internationally renowned expert on the demise of the bee and loss of biodiversity, sits on numerous national and international expert committees. He joined with the other two men to translate his findings into reality after he completed his doctorate.
Nguyen invented a monitoring system that catches a bit of pollen off worker bees when they come back to the hive. Using laboratory analysis and AI models, BeeOdiversity can identify more than 500 pesticides and heavy metals, as well as plants growing in the area. The data helps clients and stakeholders reduce pesticide use and improve the overall environment.
“In that way we are working on factors like biodiversity and pollution,” Nguyen says. “And in the end, we save the bees.”
The award-winning startup is part of Anheuser Busch InBev 100+ Accelerator program, and they are collaborating on a pilot project near the AB InBev hops-production area near George, on South Africa’s southern coast.
It is the only place in Africa where hops for beer can be grown but it is plagued by invasive water-guzzling plants like pine trees, black wattle and eucalyptus which use as much as 60% more water than native species in an area where water is scarce, says Alyssa Jooste, Africa sustainability manager for AB InBev.
BeeOdiversity is using data gathered by six bee colonies to gauge the impact of the removal of invasive species as well as the presence of pesticides in the environment, providing a baseline for the company to use in planning.
De Watergroep, the largest water utility in Flanders, the northern, Flemish-speaking part of Belgium, has been using bee colonies to analyze the areas around its groundwater extraction points for about eight years and now is trying out the BeeOimpact AI-powered platform this year. The new software can use satellite imagery and other mapping technology to see what crops and industries are present in an area and estimate the pesticides and plants that are likely to be present, quickly and at very low cost.
At Karl Wenner’s 400-acre Lakeside Farms near Klamath Falls in Oregon, the bee data is helping to guide a wetlands restoration project. BeeOdiversity is helping to determine how the wetlands Wenner created on his farm, as dams were being removed from the Klamath RIver, were faring.
BeeOdiversity helps farmers adopt sustainable techniques without spending more money. “A conventional farming operation cannot change in one year,” Nguyen says. “So the first thing we say is, apply the pesticide late in the evening. That way, the people nearby are not outside doing barbecue. The pollinators are not flying. And the impact is less than it was before.
“Then, most of the time, they’ll say, what’s the next step? The idea for us is to give them alternatives. Sometimes it’s still chemicals, but with less impact and toxicity than before. After that we go into integrated pest management, and after, if they want, to organic.
“The idea is to not only work on the environment but also on the business model and create value for them,” Nguyen says.
Assisted by AI, a workforce of bees tracks pollution and boosts biodiversity Microsoft Features, Sep. 18, 2023
Cover image: https://unsplash.com/@borisworkshop?utm_content=creditCopyText&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=unsplash">Boris Smokrovichttps://unsplash.com/photos/black-and-white-honey-bee-hovering-near-yellow-flower-in-closeup-photography-gr7ZkoZnHXU?utm_content=creditCopyText&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=unsplash">UnsplashBoris Smokrovic, Unsplash