Imagine a world without bees. No honey to sweeten your tea, no strawberries or blueberries in the spring, and no melons or mangos during summer picnics. No almonds or walnuts either to bring on hikes, and no avocado toast to hit the spot at breakfast.
As pollinators, bees play a huge role in every part of the ecosystem — from supporting the development of trees and flowers (that serve as food and shelter) to being a food source for humans, insects and animals.
Global bee populations have been declining at a rate of about 35 percent per year, and with bees’ critical role in the food cycle, this decline has endangered much of the world’s food supply. In fact, about 75 percent of the world’s crops rely at least in part on pollination, according to the World Bee Project.
Drought, climate change, mites, and excessive use of agricultural chemicals are some of the root causes for dwindling bee colonies, but if that’s not enough, bee populations are also disappearing thanks to a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder (CCD). This occurs when “the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear and leave behind a queen, plenty of food and a few nurse bees to care for the remaining immature bees and the queen,” according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
“It’s not happening in 50 or 100 years, this is happening now. We’re not 100 years away from losing bees- we’re a couple of decades away,” Saar Safra, CEO of Israel’s Beewise tells NoCamels.
Once a year, on May 20, the world comes together to celebrate “World Bee Day” and bring awareness to the dwindling bee colonies.
Ahead of the day marked around the globe, NoCamels highlights six Israeli companies using tech, innovation, and agricultural expertise to help save the bees and through them, the global food supply.
Beewise was founded in 2018 to tackle the problem of dwindling bee colonies head-on. The company’s robotic beehive combines a more modern and well-equipped beebox with artificial intelligence and real-time updates to safely house 24 bee colonies in each box. Although the solar-powered, climate-controlled beehive is a welcomed upgrade to the 150-year-old wooden bee boxes that are traditionally used, it’s the technology behind it that makes the biggest difference.
“It’s really a software solution,” Safra says. “For the first time in history, we are able to save bees using software. Yes, there’s robotics that carry out the work, but the whole ability to save bees stems from the software that can enable the whole solution,” Safra explains.
In addition to an automatic, climate-controlled environment that is optimal for each bee species in every different season, the Beewise solution carries out automated honey harvesting, pest control, and real-time updates that are connected to the cloud.
The Galilee-based startup recently raised $80 million in Series C funding, raising their funding total to $120 million across all rounds. They have “over 500 devices in the field, and the goal is to have 1000 by the end of the year,” Safra says.
“What we see from our devices is less than 8 percent colony collapse versus 35% in the industry. So if all 100 million bee colonies in the world will be in our devices we will lose only 8 million a year which is sustainable.”
While other companies’ goals are to increase revenue, Beewise measures their impact “both from a revenue standpoint and a real ESG [Environment, Social, and Governance] standpoint.”
“Today, for every cent we make, we save two bees- that’s the ratio we can measure,” Safra says. “This is a KPI and we want to improve that- 2.1, 2.5, 3 bees for every cent.”
ToBe is taking on one of the biggest catalysts in dwindling bee populations: Varroa mites. Varroa mites are tiny external parasites of adult honey bees that cause malformation and weakening and also transmit viruses. If untreated, it will likely kill over 95 percent of the bee colony within three to four years of infestation.
Varroa mites multiply rapidly and are extremely hard to detect. They are also expensive and difficult to treat without weakening the bee colony.
Hivemaster, the autonomous anti-varroa device designed by ToBe, was created to solve this issue before it can damage bee colonies. Hivemaster releases precise amounts of miticides into beehives year-round, getting rid of the Varroa mites without harming the bee colonies or honey quality.
In addition to taking care of the Varroa mites problem, the solar-powered Hivemaster solution turns every hive into a “smart hive” with real-time health updates on a cloud-based system that allows beekeepers to make more informed decisions about their bees.
ToBe was founded in 2018 by Dr. Avi Ben Shimon and has raised $2.3 million in funding.
One of the biggest problems with using honey bees for pollination is that they are not being used in the most efficient or sustainable way. When they are shipped from place to place in an unnatural way, the different climates and environments create scenarios where the bees are not being used to their full potential. This causes both unhealthier bees and lower crop outputs.
Bumblebee AI is fixing this with a data-driven, artificial pollination solution that is able to carry out crop pollination without using honeybees at all.
“Bees have their preferences- different flavors, different tastes, and they don’t pollinate all of the crops the same way,” Thai Sade, CEO of Bumblebee AI tells NoCamels in a Zoom interview. “It’s really hard to manage them. Although you can put them in a hive or in a box and manipulate and transfer them, they are not optimal pollinators.
“The high mortality rates and why we have the bees disappearing is because of the intensive use of making them pollinate commercially… Even when they are healthy and aren’t disappearing, they are not optimally pollinating and we are getting less food and lower outcomes.”
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The Bumblebee AI solution has two main components: The AI part which is an algorithm that predicts the right time to pollinate, and the hardware part which is an artificial mechanical or electromechanical application that carries out the pollination.
“We have a few different types of machines,” Sade says. “One is an electrostatic technology that collects pollen and applies it using a cross-pollination mechanism. Another one is a semi-autonomous robot with two mechanical arms that vibrate the plants and triggers the pollen into being released in a buzz pollination mechanism. Both practices mimic the natural pollination processes done by insects.”
The company was founded in 2019 and the solution has produced impressive results “with yields of between 30-100 percent or higher, involving both a higher quantity and a higher quality in terms of bigger fruits,” says Sade. T
“We actually started to sell pollination services in blueberry and avocado,” Sade says. “We are manufacturing [the solution] in Israel, and we are distributing it mainly in Latin America, rural Mexico, Chile, and Columbia- and that will be our focus in the next two years. Latin America, and then the US, Australia, and other geographical [locations] with other products- this is the roadmap.”
Biobee Biological Systems is an integrated pest management company founded in 1983 in Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu in northern Israel.
While it’s faster and cheaper in the short run for farmers to use pesticides in order to take care of infestations, this practice is one of the leading causes of declining bee populations and the disruption of natural pollination processes.
BioBee looks to solve this through natural, biologically-based integrated pest management solutions, most specifically being the world’s leading producer of Phytoseiulus persimilis, the most effective natural predator of the red spider mite. In addition to other pest management solutions, the company provides natural pollination solutions and Medfly control.
BioBee mass-produces natural predators of harmful pests by harvesting spiders, flies, and bees which are then sold worldwide in over 50 countries. In 2016, BioBee sent 500 million predatory bugs to Russia to combat pests and infestations, and in 2015 the company sent 600 million spider mites to Columbia in order to take care of the local mites destroying the crops.
These products have reduced the use of pesticides by 75-80% according to the company, which has helped stabilize many bee populations around the globe.
BioBee has also revolutionized agricultural practices in regards to pollination. Traditionally, farmers like to use honeybees for pollination because they get the added benefit of producing honey along the way, but BioBee encourages and mass-produces the bumblebee instead.
Bumblebees are far more durable as they can work in harsher weather conditions and can pollinate 4 times faster than honeybees, according to the company. The larger size and fuzzier bodies also gives them an advantage, as well as the “buzz” pollination which shakes the plant and produces better results for crops such as tomatoes.
BeeHero is an Israeli-founded company based in California that created a “smart hive” by combining software (AI) with hardware (beehive) in order to track bees’ health and produce optimal results.
According to the company, each smarthive contains nine sensors that track 30 different health metrics, all while simultaneously analyzing hundreds of different scenarios through BeeHero’s machine learning algorithm. In addition to real-time updates which help beekeepers identify problems early on such as mite infestation or declining bee health, the smarthive system can help increase crop yields by up to 30 percent through a more efficient pollination process
Due to the increase in demand in the global food supply and the simultaneous fast decrease in the number of bee colonies, the demand for almonds may outnumber the supply of bees available to pollinate them by 2023 according to company research. BeeHero’s advanced data analytics is making it possible to calculate more precisely the optimal pollination scenario for almonds based on factors such as “tree density, age, local climate conditions, etc.” This can allow the same amount of bees to cover more ground, helping slow down the problem of decreased pollination efficiency.
BeeHero was founded in 2017 by CEO Omer Davidi, CSO Michal Roizman, COO Itai Kanot, and CTO Yuval Regev, and has raised $24 million in funding overall, including $19 million in Series A in October 2021.
The newest of all the companies on the list, Bee-io Honey aims to solve the expensive, non-eco-friendly way of harvesting honey – by making it bee free! The Rehovot-based startup was founded in 2021.
Honey, just like pollination, is also being affected by the dwindling bee colonies, and even contributes to it. Bees have the potential to create two profit revenues at once for farmers- by pollinating crops and simultaneously creating honey- and everyone wants to take advantage of that. The problem is that only seven out of the 20,000 species of bees that exist create honey, which causes them to be overused and abused.
“We are required to have millions of beehives all over the world in order to create two million tons of honey per year,” Ofir Dvash, CEO of Bee-io tells NoCamels. “When we eat honey we’re taking the food for the winter from the bees. Each hive is creating approximately 35 kilos per year, so this is not an efficient process for human consumption, and it’s really not efficient for the bees.”
With consumer demand constantly on the rise and the global honey market expected to reach as much as $14.4 billion by 2025, dwindling honeybee colonies are going to have a very difficult time keeping up with the honey production.
“The [bee] protein we are able to produce in a facility in a process called fermentation,” Dvash says. “We are using microorganisms, [and] those microorganisms have a special air quality. We are able to engineer those microorganisms in a way that they produce special proteins that are exactly the same as the proteins that the bees create — but without the bee.”
While many people might be skeptical of choosing lab-based honey over natural honey, there are actually many benefits to it, in addition to the cheaper price and higher level of availability.
“The structure and molecules of the honey are almost identical to natural honey,” Dvash tells NoCamels. “Because we are able to choose the different plants and flowers that we are making our honey from, we are able to make honey without any chemicals, antibiotics and botulinum and stuff that is bad for us. So our honey- it’s almost identical- it has all the good qualities, but we’re taking out the bad qualities that are now very much available in the natural honey that we buy in the different supermarkets.”
Bee-io has raised $2.5 million from private investors in the first round of funding and has already filed for six patents in the United States. “We hope that in the next year or so we can open a facility and production facility in the United States,” Dvash says.