Mom's Advice Starts Journey From Nepal Farm to Saving California's Bees

 Raksha Kuenen Bayer Bee Health Scientist
Bayer research scientist, Raksha "Rocky" Kuenen.

From a Small Farm in Nepal

Growing up on a small farm in Nepal, Raksha Kuenen (or “Rocky,” as she known today), was tasked with harvesting the seasonal vegetables that she and her mom would prepare for their family’s meals.  It was this early assignment that foreshadowed Rocky’s future career as an entomologist.  “I hated the aphids and worms that infested the food that we were eating” she notes, “but my mom was more philosophical and simply challenged me to find better ways to produce our food.” 

Now, as a research scientist at Bayer’s Western Field Technology Station in Fresno, CA, Rocky does just that by helping to develop new insecticides and miticides. Most recently, though, she has been at the center of a new research project focused on protecting a very important species, honey bees.  

A Call to Help Pollinators that Support California's Almond Industry

Almonds are one of the primary crops near Rocky and they require lots of honey bees to pollinate their flowers.  More than half of all US honey bee colonies head to California each year to pollinate almond groves.  Unfortunately, since almonds bloom during February and March, there aren’t many blooming flowers for food sources for the bees when they get to California and wake up from their winter slumber.  Bee experts recognize that this lack of natural forage is a serious detriment to overall colony health, so Rocky was eager to see what she could do to help. 

“Finding the right plant and the right time to ensure forage will be available when the bees need it was a challenge,” she said. “We had to identify a series of appropriate plants and planting times that would produce flowers before and after almond bloom.”  Rocky and partners from the University of California (Davis) and Project Apis m. evaluated various plants suitable to California’s climate that can provide diverse forage options for honey bee colonies exactly when they need. 

The Hard Work Is Paying Off

“Working with various oil crop seeds and utilizing hedge row plantings, we found that honey bees like to forage on the most abundant and rewarding resources when given a choice,” Rocky notes.  “To make sure a healthy forage option is available to bees arriving for almond pollination, growers need to plant their forage seeds in October, after harvesting the nut crops.” Rocky has shared her research with California growers who depend on healthy bees.

Did she think her mother’s instruction to find better ways to produce more food would ultimately lead to discovering better ways to feed insects?

“I doubt the little girl growing up in Nepal ever thought she’d develop a love and appreciation for bees.  But when you understand how important they are to sustainably producing food for us all, I think I’m following my mom’s advice very well.”

The lesson, as always – mom is always right.