A global study has reported a 40 per cent drop, in the last decade, in the population of the insects that pollinate two-thirds of the world’sfood production crops, raising an additional specter in achieving food security, at a time when global food prices are rising on poor yields also caused by climate change.
The disappearance of the pollinators has become acute in certain countries like China, to the extent that farmers in the Chinese province of Sichuan have to pollinate apple flowers themselves by using pollination sticks, brushes made of chicken feathers and cigarette filters. This has seen the production of apples in the country sink to its lowest levels since records began, down 70 percent since 2010, a trend scientists now say could be headed in SubSaharan Africa where pollinators are starting to feel the effect of climate change and the changes in farming patterns.
The survey of several studies demonstrated a severe decline of pollinators and in the provision of pollination services across a wide range of intensively managed temperate and tropical agroecosystems like those in East Africa.
As it is, global crop production worth $190bn relies directly on insect pollination, meaning that the pollinators’ decline is having a direct impact on the stability of food production and consumer prices, and might also have serious consequences for human health.
A decrease in fruit and vegetable availability could impact the health of consumers worldwide. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has set a lower limit of 400 grams per capita per day for fruit and vegetable consumption. Some studies demonstrate than even now more than half of global households fall below this recommendation. As pollinator declines, further disrupting fruit and vegetable output and increasing food prices, that situation is set to worsen.
“Finally, wild pollinators provide an inestimable contribution to maintain the diversity of wild plants. Importantly, a wide range of pollinators with different preferences to flowers and different daily and seasonal activity is necessary to ensure pollination. Relying on managed honeybees only, which are also in decline by themselves, is a very risky strategy,” said Prof. Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter from the University of Würzburg, Germany in a press conference.
“Therefore, conservation of pollinators’ habitats and implementation of agro-environmental practices to enhance wild plants resources and nesting sites for bees in agricultural landscapes are vitally important!”
Some Kenyan farmers have however become proactive in ensuring insects are protected from extinction, aware that they hold the key to food security.
Kenyan born Dino Martins an international award winning scientist, has led the campaign for the conservation of long tongued bees, which are responsible for the pollination of tomatoes, Okra and many Kenyan flowers grown for the lucrative flower export market.
Working in both Tanzania and Kenya, he cites examples where women in Tanzania now allow bees to nest on the walls of their mud huts because they know they are the pollinators of their crops. “Farmers need to understand why leaving a little space for nature isn’t a luxury, but a necessity for productive, sustainable agriculture. Farmers everywhere are conservative and skeptical. So I make one or two of them my champions in the community, demonstrating the success of our techniques.
When others see the proof, they all want to try it.” Martins also cites many other examples of vital pollinators, such as the Hawkmoth, which is the sole pollinator of papaya in Africa. The colour, flavour and seed quantity of papayas are direct results of the amount of pollen that’s been deposited on their frequent visits to the female papaya tree.
Other plants like watermelons, strawberries, mangoes, coffee, cowpeas and lentils need the same kind of frequent visits by pollinators to get the depth of flavour, colour and seeds.