Global Crisis: Dying Pollinators

Imagine a world without plants, flowers or fruits! Much of the food we eat, whether raw or processed is made possible through the work of pollinators such as birds, bees and bats.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that, out of about 100 plant species which provide 90% of food worldwide, 71 are bee-pollinated.

About 75% of the world’s grown plants are pollinated by animals.

In Europe alone, 84% of 264 plant species are animal pollinated.

Four thousand vegetable crop varieties are pollinated by bees. Production value of one tonne of pollinator-dependent crops is approximately five times higher than those which do not depend on insects.

One in every three food bites worldwide depends on pollinators, especially bees, for a good yield.

Indirectly, pollinators ultimately play a role in the majority of what we eat and consume.

Pollination starts the process of producing seeds where powdered plant substances known as pollen is transferred to female reproductive organ of seed plants.

This enables fertilization and reproduction to take place through growth of the pollen tube and eventual release of sperm.

The agents for carrying pollen include insects, birds and rodents known as pollinators whose activities end up providing people with a wide range of food, especially, from horticultural crops.

Pollinators impact 35 percent of the world’s crops, increasing output of 87 of the leading food crops worldwide, as well as many plant-derived medicines.

About three-quarters of global food crops rely on pollinators to produce. Despite the importance of these pollinators, they are being taken for granted all too often.

In 2000, Doctors Roger Morse and Nicholas Calderone of Cornell University attempted to quantify the effects of just one pollinator, the Western honey bee , on only US food crops.

Their calculations came up with a figure of 14.6 billion US dollars in food crop value.

Nine years later, another study calculated the worldwide value of pollination to agriculture with emphasis on costs of using the proportion of each of 100 crops that need pollinators that would not be produced in case insect pollinators disappeared completely.

The economic value of insect pollination was put at 153 billion pound sterling.

The World Conservation Union predicts 20,000 flowering plant species will disappear in the next few decades.

Scientists working for the United Nations say, the decline in honey-bee population, for instance, is becoming a global phenomenon.

According to the report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), declines in managed bee colonies, seen increasingly in Europe and the US in the past decade, are also now being observed in China and Japan.

First signs of collapse are already being picked in Egypt and other parts of Africa.

Ghanaian bio-control entomologist, Dr. Haruna Braimah, has also raised concerns about the decline in pollinator population in Ghana.

He observes once farmers continue to use dangerous chemicals; survival of the pollinators is unsustainable in the next few years.

According to him, if the trend continues farmers will end up harvesting chaff at the end of every farming season.

Though statistics on decline are unavailable, Dr. Braimah fears, at least, half of crop productivity will be gone if we continue to lose the pollinators.

“Recently we haven’t managed to put figures because our research base in entomology for instance is weak,” he states.

Another entomologist, Dr. Henry Sintim, says many beehives are developing bacteria diseases which are wiping out the colonies.

He also mentions midges’ pollinators that pollinate cocoa are also dying off due to mass spraying.

Dr. Sintim adds, “In the past, 50 percent of flowers in cocoa develop turn into pods, but now, only 20 percent turn into pods,” attributing it to the mass spraying that actually kill the beneficial insects.

Though he agrees the cocoa plants have to be sprayed, he maintains the tree crop must also be enhanced.

The decline in many pollinator groups is associated with habitat loss, fragmentation, and deterioration; diseases and pathogens; and pesticides.

Dr. Sintim wants government to regulate the flow of pesticide and the time of spraying.

He also urges farmers to grow crops like sesame, sunflower, and plants whose flowers are bright and can be grown alongside commercial crops.

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