Pollinator Week: How well-pollinated crops are important for agriculture

The importance of bees and other pollinators such as birds and bats in food production cannot be downplayed: They affect 35 per cent of the world’s crop production and increase outputs of 87 of the leading food crops worldwide, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

One of the aims of Pollinator Week (June 22-28) is to highlight how the entire agricultural process can be affected by pollination.

“Well-pollinated crops can be of noticeably better quality, something that markets are sensitive about,” said Rapid Assessment of Pollinators’ Status, a report published by the FAO.

In Canada, good pollination in apple orchards resulted in about one extra seed per apple, which in turn produced larger and better formed apples. These apples fetched 5-6 per cent more in the market than those from orchards where pollination was insufficient, according to the report.

Indian crops

Most food crops in India need insect (primarily bee) pollination.

Oilseeds (sunflower, safflower), vegetables (carrot, coriander, cucumber, onion, etc) and fruits (apple, almond, apricot, peach, etc), all rely on pollinators, according to a study published by the International Research Journal of Natural and Applied Sciences.

Pollination by flies (myophily) is economically important as well: In tropical areas, flies are primary pollinators of the cacao, mango, cashew, tea and other cash crops, said a study by the Zoological Survey of India.

Insect pollinators are responsible not just for the reproduction of crops, but also increases in yield.

Yield increase due to bee pollination

CropYield increase (in per cent)

Mustard43

Sunflower32-48

Cotton17-19

Lucerne112

Onion93

Apple44

Source: Tamil Nadu Agriculture University (TNAU)

The declining number of pollinators, however, threatens crops that are dependent on them. Fifty million hectares of crops across India depend on pollination by bees. Around 150 million bee colonies are needed to meet this requirement. This comes to around three colonies pollinating one hectare. There were only 1.2 million colonies in 2014, according to a study by TNAU.

“Bees are under great threat from the combined effects of climate change, intensive agriculture, pesticides use, biodiversity loss, and pollution,” said José Graziano da Silva, a Brazilian-American agronomist and former director-general of the FAO.

The absence of bees and other pollinators would wipe out coffee, apples, almonds, tomatoes and cocoa, according to da Silva. Countries need to shift to more pollinator-friendly and sustainable food policies and systems, he added.

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