Why is it important to measure pollination deficits?
The health of pollinators may impact the sustained productivity of crops, orchards and pastures. The demise of pollinator groups can affect ecosystems on all levels as it pertains to communities of plants and animals and the natural systems they- and we – live within.
In 2000, the Convention on Biological Diversity took note of pollinator declines and established the International Pollinator Initiative, which recognizes that honeybees are not the only pollinators on farms. Indeed a recent publication highlighted the critical, irreplaceable role that wild bees also play in agriculture. But more information is needed on managed and wild bee pollination services, and how they can best be synchronized to provide optimal pollination services. And, we urgently need to know more specific information on the extent and causes of pollinator declines, so that we know where we need to focus.
78 percent of all flowering plants in temperate-zone communities are pollinated by animals such as bees, flies and birds, and even more- 94 percent - in tropical communities, while the rest is pollinated by wind.
The leading pollinator-dependent crops are vegetables and fruits, representing about €50 billion each, followed by edible oil crops, stimulants (coffee, cocoa, etc.), nuts and spices; most of these are critically important for nutrient security and healthy diets.
The total economic value of crop pollination worldwide has been estimated at €153 billion annually 9.5% per cent of the total value of the world’s agricultural food production.
Animal pollinators such as bees affect 35 percent of the world’s crop production, increasing outputs of 87 of the leading food crops worldwide, or 75 percent of all crops.
Wild pollinators and managed honey bees may complement each other; in studies of sunflower pollination, the pollination efficiency of honey bee foragers was enhanced up to 5 times by the presence of wild bees.
The global population of managed honey bee hives has increased by 45 percent during the last half century. While that seems quite positive, at the same time there has been a much more rapid (>300percent) increase in the fraction of agriculture that depends on animal pollination during the last half century. So, that means that their global capacity to provide sufficient pollination services may be stressed, and more pronouncedly in the developing world than in the developed world (Aizen and Harder 2009).
Every continent, except for Antarctica, has reports of pollinator declines in at least one region/country. The losses of pollination services have been well documented in many specific instances.
As managed pollinators such as honeybees face a suite of debilitating threats, the services provided by wild pollinators become even more essential.
How are FAO and its member countries contributing to the sustainability of pollinators?
When pollination was recognized as a global concern, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) was able to coordinate the development and implementation of a global project on pollination services. The project was developed in collaboration with seven developing countries: Brazil, Ghana, India, Kenya, Nepal, Pakistan and South Africa. One of the priorities of this project – as identified by the participating countries – has been to develop a protocol to identify and assess pollination deficits from a farmer’s perspective, led by FAO and the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique in Avignon, France. This protocol has been applied in the seven participating countries, and it has been discovered that management practices to ensure abundant pollinators can increase fruit sets in mango orchards in Ghana by 35%, improve the production of mustard seed in Nepal by 25%,and increase the canola oil content in rapeseed by 8% in Brazil.
In 2013, the new Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) came into force, the Biodiversity equivalent of the Nobel-Prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. While IPBES is working out its modalities (as IPBES is intended to be a science-knowledge-policy interface), the Government of Norway stepped in to take a look at the pollination deficit protocol developed by FAO, and suggested that a better understanding of how to apply it could give insight into the future work of IPBES.
Thus the Norwegian Ministry of the Environment has supported FAO in 2013 to train national research partners in five additional countries to apply the protocol: Argentina, China, Colombia, Indonesia and Zimbabwe. Researchers in Norway have also applied the protocol to apples and clover in that country. In addition, as IPBES strongly supports the value of Indigenous and Local Knowledge systems as an important part of assessment, FAO has worked with the Indigenous Partnership on Agrobiodiversity and Food Sovereignty, inviting indigenous and local communities to give input on how they might differently understand and assess pollinators and pollination services from a purely scientific approach; and also how they will apply the protocol to coffee farms run by indigenous communities in southern India.
What is particularly unique about this approach?
Almost all previous studies of crop pollination have measured biologically important variables such as pollen deposition, or seed or fruit set, but good, robust field data is missing for agronomic yield- the logical focus for farmers.
With the Norwegian support FAO and its partners from around the world convened a “working workshop” in July 2013, in São Paulo, Brazil, where participants prepared an analytical framework and the datasets from eleven countries and eleven cropping systems (from raspberries, to rapeseed, clover, pumpkin and more) for a meta-analysis of pollination deficits. Using a common, simple protocol that can be applied and adapted to a multitude of local conditions and systems could be one way for IPBES to approach the assessment of ecosystem services. Meta-analysis is an analytical tool, as yet little used at FAO - a powerful lens through which to analyze the conclusions and outcomes from investigations carried out in many different countries and ecosystems, very much in line with FAO’s core mandates. Indeed, in the recently concluded second plenary of IPBES held in December 2013 in Antalya Turkey, a fast track assessment on pollinators and pollination associated with food production was approved, and FAO’s activities noted. In particular, it was stressed that “by conducting meta- analyses on these key issues IPBES could provide an overview of key subjects in ways that are useful to policy-makers”.
Although the complete results are still to be compiled, initial results show that ensuring optimal pollination services has a strongly positive effect on yields. On average, a 100% increase in pollinators (which is biologically quite realistic to bring about through management practices) results in an increase in yields of 24%, of pollinator-dependent crops.
For more information:www.internationalpollinatorsinitiative.org
This FAO project was funded by the United National Environment Programme, Global Environment Facility and the Norwegian Ministry of the Environment.