The project calls for visits to farms by technicians to identify the best locations for hives (photo: Eleve Pesquisa e Desenvolvimento)
Published on 05/12/2021
By Eduardo Geraque | FAPESP Innovative R&D – Brazilian researchers have developed an electronic platform to connect beekeepers with farmers, with the aim of optimizing crop yields via agricultural pollination. The system operates in a similar manner to urban mobility and ride sharing apps.
The tech startup Agrobee runs the platform out of Ribeirão Preto, São Paulo State. It includes advanced tools for hive quality monitoring and the georeferencing of hive locations, as well as an exchange for buying and selling honey.
Agrobee is the trade name of Eleve Pesquisa e Desenvolvimento, which has been working on the platform for a year with support from FAPESP’s Innovative Research in Small Business Program (PIPE). The first pilot version was launched on Google Play on August 19, 2019.
The company is owned by researcher Andresa Berretta and her business partners Carlos Rehder and Guiherme Sousa, whom she met while in the UK to take part in a Leaders in Innovation Fellowships (LIF) training program supported by FAPESP and the Royal Academy of Engineering.
Agrobee also has two staff biologists, as well as four trainees – two in fieldwork and two in digital platform development. “We completed the technical foundation for the product in the first year,” Beretta says. “Next, we must collect data and present the results to growers in order to foster the creation of a pollination culture so that the platform can effectively connect beekeepers and agricultural producers. The app is designed to prioritize geographic proximity when making these connections. This reduces costs and subjects hives to lower levels of stress during transportation.”
The project involves challenges greater than transporting bees to crops. Even when a match is made, a team must be sent to the farm to identify the best spots for hives to be placed. “The entire process will be assisted,” Beretta says.
Future versions of the app will automate this part of the process using artificial intelligence.
Strawberries and coffee
Studies have shown that placing beehives near crops has a significant impact on production. In the case of strawberries, for example, Agrobee found that the presence of bees raised the average weight by 12.7% and sweetness by 19.2%.
Another important point with regard to strawberries is the high deformity rate without bees (76.6%). According to Agrobee, with pollination, the rate falls to 23.4%, increasing growers’ revenues.
The results have also been positive for coffee growers. Experiments were conducted in 2018 on four plantations in São Paulo State, the Cerrado (savanna) area of the neighboring state of Minas Gerais, a dry area, and an irrigated farm. “In the latter case, coffee bean production increased by 107% compared with 30% to 50% in the other locations,” Berretta said.
Coffea arabica does not require bees for pollination because it is a self-pollinating crop. Nevertheless, the introduction of bees has proven positive according to Agrobee’s pilot data. “Bean production rises at least 30%,” Berretta says.
In addition to increasing beekeepers’ incomes and crop yields – given that 75% of the crops grown in Brazil need bees for pollination – another goal pursued by Agrobee is to disseminate a propollination culture, with all the environmental benefits that entails.
“Placing beehives on farms also tends to encourage growers to use agrochemicals more rationally,” Beretta says.
Approximately 25,000 bee colonies are believed to have died in recent years in Brazil because of excessive pesticide spraying, according to estimates by the To Bee Or Not To Bee organization.
Originally a spinoff from Apis Flora, Agrobee plans to have its platform fully operational within one to two years. When this occurs, income will be generated in the form of a percentage commission on each beekeeper-farmer transaction.
Company: Eleve Pesquisa e Desenvolvimento
Address: Rua Triunfo, 945, Sala 01, Santa Cruz do José Jacques, Ribeirão Preto, CEP 14020-670, Brazil
Contact: +55 16 3639-2890