Sometimes the greatest discoveries are made by accident.
We weren’t specifically looking for a new species of bee on our family farm in Brazil—but we found one anyway, as we studied the pollinators that make so much food production possible.
Researchers even named it after my family: The bee’s scientific name is Ceratina (Ceratinula) fioreseana.
For me, the lesson is obvious: Despite what many people may assume, agriculture doesn’t compete against biodiversity. Instead, it coexists and even flourishes alongside biodiversity in a system of sustainability.
Brazil is both a biological wonder and an agricultural powerhouse. We are home to the Amazon rainforest, which possesses the richest ecosystem on the planet. At the same time, we rank fifth among nations for agricultural output, and we lead the world in growing sugar, oranges, and coffee.
We’ve found a way to keep a proper balance. Two-thirds of Brazil is protected from development, and only 8 percent of the country is cultivated. We have very stringent environmental laws for agricultural production, where deforestation and burning are expressly prohibited and punished.
Last year, Brazil became the world’s top producer of soybeans, which we grow on our farm in the central part of the country, in a region called the Cerrado. My family also cultivates corn, beans, wheat, and sorghum.
We owe much of our success to technology. Because of tools such as GM technology, we grow more food on less land than ever before. GM soybeans, for example, are a vast improvement over non-GM varieties. They withstand deadly pressure from weeds, pests, and disease. Under the proper care of farmers, these crops thrive and generate a bounty that farmers from the last century would have regarded as inconceivable.
These strong yields allow us to conserve our amazing biodiversity, which is one of Brazil’s greatest natural resources—as well as one of the main reasons we can produce so much food.
As farmers, we know all about this vital connection. Yet we’re always trying to learn more, and that’s why my farm welcomed a team led by Favizia Freitas de Oliveira of the Federal University of Bahia. She wanted to study pollinator diversity around soybean crops and we opened our fields to her.
She found 72 species of native Brazilian bees on our farm—and also the new one, previously unknown to science.
The Ceratina (Ceratinula) fioreseana is a small carpenter bee that lives alone rather than in colonies with a queen. On first glance, it looks similar to other bees in its genus, but up close it shows morphological differences, such as distinct facial and body parts. A pattern of spots on its face also is unique.
Unlike many bees, it doesn’t make honey. From my standpoint, however, it produces something much more important: plant pollination. My crops depend on the wind to pollinate, but lots of other crops count on insects to collect pollen from flowers and distribute it as they fly around. Fruits and vegetables are especially reliant on bees for fertilization and seed production.
In biology, this is known as a positive form of symbiosis, or a healthy interaction between two different species. The bees benefit because they receive the food of pollen or nectar from the plants. The plants benefit because the bees help them reproduce.
Farming works the same way. The successful production of food requires that I care for my soil, my water, and the environment that my farm is located in. Everything is connected in a single living system—and as a farmer, I have a vested interest in the preservation of the natural world that makes food production possible.
Our farm cooperates with the natural world it is in to produce the food that we all need.
Scientists estimate that some 2.5 million species of insect dwell in the Amazon, and that a single square mile of rainforest can hold 50,000 types of bugs.
In the grand scheme of things, a single species of bee on my farm probably won’t make a major difference. But every species matters, and on my farm, we’re doing our part to conserve and share the story that is the miracle of biodiversity.
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