As the global population continues to expand, the amount of food needed to accommodate that growth also needs to increase. This presents many challenges. First off, recent headlines highlight multiple instances of “colony collapse disorder” in which bee colonies die off for still unexplained reasons. This in turn presents a real challenge as honeybees are the main pollinator of plants that are used to grow food in the agricultural sector. Secondly, domesticated honey bees, the now default bee used in pollination due to their ease of transportation, have been found to be less effective in pollinating specific fruits and vegetables, like blueberry and avocados, in comparison to wild bees. Lastly, and this by far is the most serious challenge, is that there just aren’t enough honey bees to go around and help meet the world’s increased need for food.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, since 1961, the amount of land dedicated to agricultural use has expanded by 600% while the number of managed honey bee hives has only grown by 83%, a classic supply and demand problem. For example, every year, 48 billion honey bees are shipped to California to help pollinate the almond groves and then rotated to other parts of the country to help pollinate additional crops. Unfortunately, many of the bees die in transition, putting further strain on the whole food chain. This phenomenon is also not limited to the United States.
To solve this problem, Israeli company BloomX, founded in 2019 in Rishpon, Israel, has developed robotic tools that pollinate as efficiently as wild bees and without the risks involved with using honey bees. In addition to their effectiveness, these robo-bees also can be used in countries that prohibit the import of foreign bees (Colombia for example) as they pose potential threats to local ecosystems.
At present, Bloom X is focusing on pollinating blueberries and avocados as they are large cash crops and the company wanted to show growers a high return on investment. Given that both items are expensive, by using Bloom X robots growers can reap higher revenues from significantly increased yields and quality.
Bloom X develops different “robo-bees” for different fruits and vegetables as each type has its own needs regarding pollination. What Bloom X has shown is that its “bees” can increase blueberry yields by up to 30% while decreasing small-size fruit by 55% and increasing large sized fruit by 29%. Avocados in turn, have seen a 40% yield increase with BloomX robo tools, enabling growers to produce more medium sized fruits, the preferred consumer-size category.
Bloom X currently has clients in Latin America (Mexico, Peru and Colombia) South Africa, Israel and the United States. According to the company, the next fruits on the “to-do” list are apples, mangos and other berries as well as greenhouse tomatoes.
In true start-up nation fashion, there are at least six other bee-focused startups in Israel as well, all working to solve real world problems in an efficient and fiscally realistic way including:
Bee-io, which aims to make honey without bees.
BeeWise, which can house up to 40 colonies, or two million bees, allowing beekeepers to remotely care for their hives.
BeeHero, which helps farmers optimize where to place hives.
BioBee, which replaces honeybees with bumblebees.
ToBe, which sprays a miticide to combat varroa, a parasite that feeds on honeybees and infects them with dangerous viruses.
Edete, which has developed an artificial pollination technology using vehicles that resemble tractors.
Israeli technology succeeds again!