Almonds? We’re nuts about them! You may have heard about the relationship between almonds & water shortages in California, but have you heard about how the Californian almond industry is affecting the bees? We took a closer look at both for Bee Aware Month 2017.
Almonds in the shell
We’re nuts about Almonds
As good fats and low-carb diets have become increasingly popular, almond consumption has reached new nutty heights. In 2015, North Americans were eating almost a kilo of almonds per person per year, a 100% increase on the amount consumed in 2007.
The number of almond products available is staggering. During a brief search of our shelves, you can find almonds, almond butter, peanut almond butter, cacao almond crush, almond milk unsweetened almond milk, activated unsweetened almond milk, almond paleo bread, almonds crackers, and more!
Almonds are nutritionally rich, containing vitamins, minerals, dietary fibre and polyunsaturated fats. They also contain compounds linked with cholesterol-lowering properties. You can see why they’re so popular! But almonds have a dark side too.
The dark side of Nutter Butter
The growing consumption of almonds has been linked with extreme water shortages and bee death.
California grows approximately 80 per cent of the world’s supply of almonds. Because it takes 4.5 litres of water to grow a single almond, the almond industry uses 10% of California’s annual agricultural water per year.
We are all beekeepers, and the bees keep us
So, what about the bees?
Californian almonds need 1.6 million hives to pollinate them. Some of these are being poisoned by pesticides and associated chemicals.
Almond trees are usually pollinated by wild insects, but when farmers grow a huge monoculture of almonds, there’s not enough to get the job done! Californian’s almond crops need 60% of the USA’s managed honeybees every spring. The beekeepers usually ship their hives in the winter and store them in fields, where they are likely targets for bee thieves.
In 2014,between 15%-35% of beehives were severely damaged during the almond pollination bloom. Experts asked Californian beekeepers to remove their hives from almond groves to slow the widespread bee deaths. The combination of pesticides and new forms of “adjuvants” were blamed for the deaths. Adjuvants are designed to spread pesticides more evenly over crops, and new wave adjuvants can penetrate the leaves of the crops. Low doses of these new adjuvants have been linked to decreasing bees ability to learn to forage, leading to decreased hive health.
The Californian Almond Board has acknowledged the state of hive health and colony collapse. While they have put guidelines in place concerning beekeepers and almond growers around managing bees, bee health has continued to decline.
What can we do about it?
Almonds are delicious! We’re not suggesting anyone stop eating them (unless you’re allergic…). But, given the environmental concerns, here are a a few suggestions:
- Treat almonds as a treat, not a food group
- Eat organic almonds
- Eat Palestinian almonds from Trade Aid
- Eat hazelnuts! They have a similar nutritional composition and can be grown in Aotearoa New Zealand. You can use hazel flour instead of almond flour
- Try alternative nut and seed butters, like cashew butter, sunflower butter or pumpkin seed butter