Acción mundial de la FAO sobre servicios de polinización para una agricultura sostenible

Tiny miracle workers

Pollination is vital to life on our planet. Bees and other pollinators have thrived for millions of years, ensuring food security and nutrition, and maintaining biodiversity and vibrant ecosystems for plants, humans and the bees themselves.

Pollinators are essential to the production of many of the micronutrient rich fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and oils we eat. In fact, close to 75 percent of the world’s crops producing fruits and seeds for human consumption depend, at least in part, on pollinators for sustained production, yield and quality. The diversity of food available is largely owed to animal pollinators. But alarmingly, in a number of regions, pollination services are showing declining trends.

In the past, this service was provided by nature at no apparent cost. As farm fields have become larger, agricultural practices have also changed, focussing on a narrower list of crops and increasing the use of pesticides. Mounting evidence  points to these factors as causes to the potentially serious decline in populations of pollinators. The decline is likely to impact the production and costs of vitamin-rich crops like fruits and vegetables, leading to increasingly unbalanced diets and health problems, such as malnutrition and non-communicable diseases.

Maintaining and increasing yields in horticultural crops under agricultural development is important to health, nutrition, food security and better incomes for smallholder farmers.

The process of securing effective pollinators to ‘service’ agricultural fields is proving difficult to engineer, and there is a renewed interest in helping nature provide pollination services through practices that support wild pollinators. 

Birds, bees, bats and more

So, what are they? Everyone knows about the bees, and there are some 20 000 species of wild bees that pollinate plants but it may come as a surprise to know that moths, flies, wasps, beetles and butterflies as well as some animals pollinate plants. Vertebrate pollinators include bats, non-flying mammals, including several species of monkey, rodents, lemur, tree squirrels, olingo and kinkajou, and birds such as hummingbirds, sunbirds, honeycreepers and some parrot species.

The abundance and diversity of pollinators ensures the sustained provision of pollination services to multiple types of plants and leads to better food.

Threats to pollinators

Bees and other pollinators are under threat. Present species extinction rates are 100 to 1 000 times higher than normal due to human impacts. Insects will likely make up the bulk of future biodiversity loss with 40 percent of invertebrate pollinator species – particularly bees and butterflies – facing extinction. Though to a lesser degree, vertebrate pollinators (16.5 percent) are also threatened with extinction globally.

Changes in land use and landscape structure, intensive agricultural practices, monocultures and use of pesticides have led to large-scale losses, fragmentation and degradation of their habitats. Pests and diseases resulting from reduced resistance of bee colonies and from globalization, which facilitates the transmission of pests and diseases over long distances, pose a special threat. Furthermore, climate change also has a negative impact. Higher temperatures, droughts, floods, other extreme climate events and changes of flowering time hinder pollination largely by desynchronizing the demand (flowers in bloom) with the supply of service providers (abundant and diverse populations of pollinators).