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There are too few honeybees in Japan. While one immediately associates the busy yellow and black insects with honey, Japan's honey production is not the area of agriculture most threatened by the decline in the bee population. Fruit and vegetable farmers also depend on honeybees to pollinate their plants, and the shortage of bees has gone so far as to create fears of a produce shortage, one that could threaten dinner tables across Japan.
In a normal year, from now through spring, Mamuro would be busy buying up honeybees from beekeepers in and outside the prefecture and distributing them to farms. This year, however, Mamuro has found it difficult to meet demand, and deliveries to customers will drop to less than half the usual amount. "If this keeps up," Mamuro says, "it'll be the end of my business."
Honeybees are essential in the pollination of fruit and vegetable plants such as strawberries, watermelons, melons, eggplants, Japanese pears, cherries, blueberries and so on. Fruit and vegetable producers buy honeybees just for pollination purposes and release them in their fields and greenhouses.
A sudden drop in the honeybee population is not an experience limited to Japan. In fact, a similar shortage began in the United States three years ago. The autumn of 2006 to the spring of 2007 saw a particularly alarming decline in bee numbers, when around 30 percent of American bees suddenly disappeared, a phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). The underlying cause of CCD is as yet unknown.