As agriculture has expanded over the last few decades, global dependence on pollinator insects has increased. But crop diversity hasn’t increased nearly as much – and this disparity spells trouble for many regions, especially parts of South America, Asia and Africa as farmers plant only one type of crop, according to a new study.
Bees and other insects work hard to gather nectar and pollen. Along the way, pollen gets stuck to their bristly bodies, and the insects pollinate flowers. Many crops are at least partially dependent on insect pollination, including fruits, nuts, and oil seeds such as soybeans. Planting soybeans can save on labour costs and is a sure income for farmers, but contribute to a large portion of soil erosion and increase fertiliser and pesticide use. The latest study from the university of Maryland in the USA indicates that current trends are not great for pollinators and once the bees are gone….. In Mpumalanga, farmers are already using bees from bee keepers to pollinate crops.
There aren’t enough beekeeper-managed honeybees to keep up with the increase in crops, and in addition, wild bees are declining in some areas. With too much demand on these insects to pollinate crops, a smaller proportion of plants are pollinated. And while planting more pollinator-dependent crops can sometimes help insect populations, it can also contribute to their decline via pesticide use and natural habitat loss.
In Africa, there have been high rates of agricultural expansion, but pollinator dependence hasn’t increased as much, says the United Nations (UN.) This is due to planting more non-pollinator-dependent crops. In Europe, by contrast, pollinator dependence has increased even though agricultural area has decreased, because crops that don’t depend on pollinators are being replaced with crops that do.
The authors of the study suggest that different farming practices could help increase biodiversity. These practices include switching up the types of crops planted in an area, planting multiple crops in the same field and planting crops such as corn and wheat which are pollinated by wind or self-fertilised and do not rely on insects.
The bottom line is that if you’re increasing pollinator crops, you also need to diversify crops and implement pollinator-friendly management.