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Protect the little helpers: Concern over declining population of Pollinators

  • Category
    Environment
  • Published
    20th Nov, 2018

Recent Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services (IPBES) report has observed that across India’s agrarian plains, plantations and orchards, millions of birds, bats and insects toil to pollinate crops.

Issue

Context

  • Recent Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services (IPBES) report has observed that across India’s agrarian plains, plantations and orchards, millions of birds, bats and insects toil to pollinate crops.
  • The report concerns with the decline of thousands of species of pollinators.

Background

  • Pollination is the vital process in flowering plant reproduction involving the transfer of pollen grains from the anther (or male part) to the stigma (or female part) of the same, or another plant of the same species. The fertilised egg cells grow into seeds which are then spread in the many fruits and vegetables that are eaten.
  • This transfer of pollen can be done by the wind, birds, bats, mammals and insects most important of them are the honey bees that pollinate on a huge commercial scale.
  • Pollination is not just important for the food that is consumed, it’s also vital for the foraging crops, such as field beans and clover, used to feed the livestock.
  • It helps to feed many other animals in the food chain and maintains the genetic diversity of the flowering plants.

About

Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services (IPBES)

  • Akin to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), it is an independent intergovernmental body that seeks to provide scientific information about biodiversity and ecosystem services to policymakers of the member countries.
  • It was created in 2012 by more than 100 governments. At present around 130 states are member of it.
  • The IPBES, with its secretariat in Germany, is administered by the UN, including the UNEP and the UNDP.
  • The mission of IPBES is to strengthen knowledge foundations for better policy through science, for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, long-term human well-being and sustainable development.

    Ecosystem Services

    Ecosystem Services are the many benefits which society derives from nature. They include fresh water; fertile soil; wild plant resources such as foods, fibres, medicinal plants and the wild relatives of crops; wild pollinators and the natural enemies of crop pests; carbon sequestration from the atmosphere; and the important spiritual; aesthetic and recreational values of nature.

Analysis

Significance of Pollinators

  • Most of our staple food crops such as wheat, rice, sorghum, barley and maize do not require animals for their pollination. However, wild pollinators play a very important role in the production of other crops such as some pulses, sunflower seeds, cardamom, coffee, cashew nuts, oranges, mangoes and apples.
  • More than 20,000 species of pollinators including birds, bats and insects serve these crops. Species of bees are the most important pollinators for most of our food crops.
  • The annual economic value of the crops pollinated by animals worldwide is estimated to be between $235 billion and $577 billion (in 2015).
  • In 2015, IPBES found that pollinators lead to huge agricultural economic gains. The report estimated pollinator contribution in India to be $0.831-1.5 billion annually for just six vegetable crops. This is an underestimation considering that nearly 70% of tropical crop species are dependent on pollinators for optimal yields.
  • The wild pollinators now are declining, and their loss will imperil human food supply.

Reasons for decline of Pollinators

  • The decline of moths, bees, butterflies, hoverflies and other pollinators is undeniably linked to human activity.
  • Large tracts of natural habitats have been cleared for monoculture cultivation, while the use of pesticides and fertilisers is pushing out nature’s little helpers.
  • In a series of studies, researchers have showed that native Indian bees, when exposed to multiple pesticides, suffer from memory and olfactory impairment, lower response rates, and oxidative stress which damage cells.
  • For the period of 1964 to 2008, researchers have estimated 40-60% growth in relative yields of pollinator-dependent crops while pollinator-independent crops such as cereals and potatoes saw a corresponding 140% rise in yields. 

Effect on Indian Biodiversity

  • In India important pollinators of food crops are various species of honeybee (Apis) such as A. Dorsata, A. Cerana, A. Florae, A. Andreniformes and A. Laboriosa. The European honeybee, A. Mellifera, also pollinates many crops and fruits such as apples.
  • Many of these pollinators are declining. Researchers have reported that the number of bee colonies have shrunk significantly over the last decade.
  • Declining population of pollinators is a potential crisis not only for biodiversity but also for India’s agricultural economy.
  • The economic stakes involved is also huge. The value of animal-pollinated crops in India is in the tens of billions of dollars.
  • In the Himalayas, particularly in Kashmir, apple yields in recent years have decreased. The decrease has been attributed to reduction in the number of bees.
  • In North India, lowering yields of mustard cultivation may be caused by disappearing pollinators.

International Initiatives

  • The U.S. has established a Pollinator Health Task Force and a national strategy that focuses on increasing the monarch butterfly population and planting native species and flowers in more than 28,000 sq. km to attract pollinators.
  • The U.K. developed 23 key policy actions under its National Pollinator Strategy. Meanwhile, after the IPBES report, almost 20 countries have joined the Coalition of the Willing on Pollinators.
  • The EU has formed Pollinators’ Initiative. This can provide pointers to India, particularly as a policy of direct payment support to farmers to provide buffer strips for pollinators for nectar- and pollen-rich plants.

Way Forward

  • The IPBES report makes a number of recommendations to restore the integrity of pollinators: improvements in the science of pollination, better land management, strong regulations underlying pesticide use, and restoration and protection of habitats for wild pollinators.
  • There is an urgent need for monitoring wild pollinators, and for strengthening the governance of natural assets.
  • Pollinators in urban areas can serve and enhance food production in peri-urban areas. Wild biodiversity, including pollinators, must become a significant component of future ‘Smart Cities’.
  • Policies and governance for managing landscapes — natural, agricultural, urban — are equally important.
  • Apart from promoting organic farming and lowering pesticide usage, landscape management is the key.
  • India has millions of hectares of reserve forests, some of which have been converted to pulpwood plantations. Much of this can be restored to become thriving homes for pollinators. The same can be done at gram panchayat level.
  • Fallow areas and government land can be used to plant flowering species for pollinators.
  • The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has launched a programme to establish a network of Indian Long Term Ecological Observatories (I-LTEO) to monitor the country’s ecosystems. The I-LTEO network offers tremendous opportunities to monitor wild pollinators.

Learning Aid

Question Practice:

Discuss the role of pollinators in agricultural and horticultural production. In the light of recently released IPBES report, examine the reasons for declining population of pollinators. Suggest measures to improve the situation.

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