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Farmers forced to purchase bees as pollinator population dwindles

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Apis mellifera Western honey bee

Renowned biologist Josan Salk once said that there would be no life on earth within 50 years if all insects disappeared.

Salk’s conclusion stems from the fact that more than 85 per cent of global vegetation requires insects for pollination, something that makes the bugs a key factor for continued crop production.

Yet, and sadly, the number of bees dying per year around the world has increased dramatically from between 5-10 per cent in 2006 to a high of 30 per cent due to climate change and human activities, this according to a recent Global Research dubbed the death and extinction of bees.

Ironically, the immediate beneficiaries of insect pollination are the greatest contributors to the death of these insects through uncanny farming practices, notably the use of inorganic chemicals for pest and insect control.

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In the USA, for instance, 40 per cent of honeybee colonies died between mid 2014 and 2015, with pesticides accounting for 11.2 per cent of those deaths.

Neonicotinoid pesticides mostly used on corn and other cereal crops were found to block nerve endings of bees, paralyzing and forcing them to starve to death. The study conducted by the country’s department of agriculture estimated the economic value of bees’ pollination to be between $10-15b.

More research

The International Pollinators Initiative, a programme by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD) and FAO in 2013 conducted a study in seven countries across the globe, including Kenya, which found that farmers had limited knowledge on the benefits of pollinator insects.

The study, which sampled 500 smallholder farms in Kenya, revealed that 68 per cent of them use fire to harvest honey, killing most of worker and marble bees responsible for pollination.

 47 per cent of the farmers interviewed could not comprehend the relationship between pollinator insects like bees and butterflies and food production with 72 per cent of them choosing the use of chemical pesticides as the best in eradicating harmful pests and insects on their farms.

Generally, the study found out that harmful pests and insects have developed resistance to most chemical pests and insecticides used but kill beneficial organism of the farm. A part from killing pollinators, those chemicals destroys nematodes that attack and kill pests in the ground.

The researchers asked governments to come up with well structured agricultural policies to minimize the use of chemical pest and insecticides by farmers and recommended organic pesticides as safest way of conserving agricultural friendly insects that contributes to almost $220b of global food.

Local players

In a bid to arrest this growing concern of pollinators’ extinction, some organizations both locally and globally are coming up with innovative ways of increasing awareness and conservation of these insects. Last year, in Kenya, ICIPE launched the African Reference Laboratory for Bee Health to research and capacity build on the health of wild bees. It was aimed at looking at pesticide residues, diseases, pests and viruses that are affecting these bees and develop a harmonized procedures and legislations on bee heath into national development agendas across Africa, and act as a build up for a pan- African framework on bee health.

Meawhile, Koppert, a multinational agricultural based research and solution provision company is countering the wide pollinator deficit across the globe by artificially breeding and selling some of these pollinators to farmers across the world. Bumble bees are some of the insects the company breeds and sells to farmers to aid in pollination. They are packaged in minipol beehives containing brood and sugar solution.

In case of difficult pollination, like hybridization, where both parental lines produce little pollen or nectar or are not attractive to regular pollinators, the company has unique pollinator flies to ensure crop reproduction.

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Koppert also rears and sells the Natufly, botanically known as Lucilia sericata, to farmers, who keep them in their greenhouses to aid pollination in cabbages, carrots, onions and cauliflowers. Those flies are packaged in two litter bottles carrying at least 33,000 flies, according to Douglas Mureithi, a researcher at the company’s Kenyan branch.

While such initiatives may not offer permanent solutions to tame extinction of pollinators, they provide a positive benchmarking platform for agricultural stakeholders across the globe to develop relevant policies to conserve agricultural friendly insects and save the existence of both flora and fauna.

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