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| Last Updated:: 03/05/2019

Why is food production up despite fewer pollinators?





A draft of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Report raises the fundamental question: if pollinators are declining, how is the global food production increasing?



The IPBES Global Assessment Report on ecosystem services says the impact of the decline in pollinators on global food production is “negligible”.



“The small fraction of total agricultural production that depends directly on pollinators has increased fourfold during the last five decades, whereas the fraction of food production that does not depend on pollinators has only increased twofold,” it adds.



This means that agriculture the world are twice dependent on pollinator-dependent crops than it was five decades ago. Since 1990s, this dependence has picked up momentum. It is assessed that the value of additional crop production due to pollination is around $235bn-$577bn (in 2015) worldwide.



Decreased crop yield relates to local declines in pollinator diversity (well established, SIC), but this trend does not scale up globally (established but incomplete, SIC).



At the local scale, yield of many pollinator-dependent crop species is positively related to wild pollinator diversity. As a consequence, reductions in crop yield have been found in agricultural fields with impoverished bee faunas, despite high honey bee abundance (well established).



While pollination efficiency varies considerably between species and crops, wild bees as a group have been found, on average, to increase crop yield twice as much as honey bees on a per-visit basis (well established), says the report.



In fact, another global assessment by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) found that pollinator-dependent crops had fastest expansion even though they recorded the slowest yield growth rate.



During this period, pollinator-dependent crops accounted for 30 per cent of the cultivable land expansion in the world. Another reason for this could be the way we attribute pollinators to crop production.



The degree of pollinator-dependence varies across crops. Animal-pollinated crops account for about one-third of global agricultural production, according to the assessment. Within this, crops have varied dependence, thus bringing down the overall impact of decline on overall crop production: pollinators only account for 5-8 per cent of total production.   



However, the authors of the report flag caution, saying that pollinators have very critical indirect roles like the production of crop seeds for sowing. They caution that even if the food production loss is minimal due to decline of pollinators, the world has to take up extra cultivation to compensate for it.



“It will potentially entail a high environmental cost in terms of natural and semi-natural habitat destruction associated with the increase in cultivable land,” it says.