By Sara Miller, May 04, 2023

That the world’s bee population is in crisis is no secret. Scientists, conservationists and agriculturalists have been scrambling for a solution to a situation that could be catastrophic for humans who rely on these stripy natural pollinators and their winged cohorts to propagate much of the food that we eat. 

Israeli company Edete says it has a unique solution, giving the insects – and those who benefit from their hard work – a helping hand in the form of mechanical artificial pollination, which it says is vital if we wish to ensure food security for future generations.

Edete’s artificial pollination machine in action. Courtesy

“If we want our children and grandchildren to have the opportunity to have fresh fruit and vegetables, there is no other solution,” Edete CEO Eylam Ran tells No Camels. 

According to Ran, there are two key challenges facing farmers: the worldwide decline in the population of the insects that act as pollinators (the UN Food and Agriculture Organization says that some 75 percent of crops rely on pollinators to a greater or lesser extent) and the need to produce more food as the global population increases. 

“We cannot produce as much harvest as we want or as much as we know that the trees have the potential to provide us,” he says. “It’s become pretty ridiculous because we are very sophisticated in the way we do agriculture: we use computers for irrigation and we use satellites to measure the heat of the soil and then put in sensors; everything is very, very modern.

“On the other hand, the last step of having a yield after working so hard the entire year – making sure that we have fruit – is something that no one had control over globally, no one was doing anything about it.”

He warns that with the number of people on the planet growing, countries must increase their production of food yet are struggling to do so because of a lack of land suitable for growing crops.

“That’s scary, because the result is that we’re getting less and less yield per acre, meaning that people are trying to get more and more acreage. So we are cutting down jungles, but we are not getting the optimum yield from what we already have,” Ran says.

“Mathematics is showing that the only way to overcome this is to produce more on the acres that we already have. Pollination is one of the major factors that no one ever took care of and was completely left to nature,” he adds, comparing the mechanical process to vital irrigation that is standard in farming today.

“It’s as if you’re waiting for the rain to irrigate your fields, your orchards; one year you have enough rain and then 10 years you don’t. You can’t imagine agriculture without irrigation.”

Almonds maturing in California’s Central San Joaquin Valley. Courtesy PAC55CC BY-SA 4.0 / Wikimedia Commons

Furthermore, Ran says, the actual process of artificial pollination is “exactly like artificial insemination in the dairy industry,” a practice that has been in common use for decades.

He explains that artificial pollination has two elements: collecting and storing the pollen from the male part of a flower or stamen, “exactly like a sperm bank,” and then at a later date implanting it into the female part of another plant or stigma.

“We are basically creating a pollen bank, and at the right time – when it suits in an accurate and statistical way – we bring the pollen to the trees, and pollinate them accurately, minimizing those factors that are working against us when it’s left to nature to do,” he says.

The Edete process involves harvesting flowers from trees, isolating the pollen within and storing it securely and without any contamination. Edete’s machines then douse the plants in pollen at an optimal time for germination.

“We make sure that the quality of the pollen is high, it’s germinable (can reproduce) and it reaches the flowers exactly where the flowers are receptive and willing to receive it. And obviously we are doing it in a natural way – we’re not interfering with anything except replacing this vector of providing the pollen,” he insists, adding that the pollen, once collected, is left “completely pure.”

A marmalade hoverfly, pollen on its face and legs, sitting on a rockrose. Courtesy André Karwath (Aka), CC BY-SA 2.5 / Wikimedia Commons

Ran says that while male and female parts of a flower would once bloom at the same time, climate change has disrupted that synchronicity, making Edete’s solution all the more vital, even if it is somewhat alien to those to whom the word agriculture immediately conjures images of more traditional farming practices.

“I know that it’s very romantic when you look at agriculture, you see the green and you see the flowers and you know it smells brilliant. But agriculture is not natural, it’s an industry and it is getting more and more aggressive,” Ran says.

He says that the use of pesticides and monoculture farming (growing just one crop 

“If we are working in an artificial way, and we’re trying to make nature work in an unnatural way, we should solve the problem ourselves,” he says.

Pistachio trees in California. Courtesy PAC55, CC BY-SA 4.0 / Wikimedia Commons

Given the grave situation the Edete CEO describes, it is hardly surprising that the demand for his company’s product is already high – and in every corner of the globe. Edete’s artificial pollination process is already on the market in California, where it is used to grow almonds and pistachios.

“Almonds are completely 100 percent dependent on bees and there’s not enough bees in the entire US to serve the huge almond industry in California,” Ran says. “They are facing an acute crisis. So we are there.”

The Californian pistachio growers, however, face the problem of the male and female flower parts now developing at different times, making its natural wind germination very difficult.

“You can’t bring in more bees, you can’t do anything, because if you don’t have the male and the female together, you don’t have a ‘child’. The only way to overcome it is by artificial pollination. When you take the pollen from the males and you bring it to the females, even if [the process is] separated by a few weeks, you can be there, take the pollen and move it.”

Edete’s artificial pollination machine in action. Courtesy

With its success in pollinating Californian almond and pistachio flowers, Edete is now considering cautious expansion into other countries and crops, such as apples in China and rosaceae (members of the rose family such as cherries, raspberries and strawberries) that are found throughout Europe.

“We get requests from all over the world, [but] as a small start up, we have to take it one step after another.”

Before you save the world? 

Ran laughs.

“Before we save the world we need to grow too.”

Machine Pollination Tackles Climate Change, Food Demands