(Beyond Pesticides, September 30, 2010) A new study finds a clear link between a decline in wild pollinators and reduced vegetable yields in India, which researchers say will harm both the nation‚Äôs GDP as well as access to a nutritional diet. Parthiba Basu, PhD, one of the researchers from the University of Calcutta‚Äôs Ecology Research Unit, says that nutritional security in India will be affected as a result of the decline, since the vegetables that rely on pollination substantially provide essential nutrients to the population.
The research team, which presented its findings at a recent British Society meeting at the University of Leeds, compared the yields of pollinator-dependent crops such as pumpkins, squash and cucumbers with pollinator-independent crops, such as cereals. The data shows that while yields of pollinator-independent crops continue to increase, the crops that are dependent on pollinators have leveled off.
Though the researchers would have liked to specifically compare pollinator abundance over the years, this kind of data is not currently available in India. The use of domesticated bees for pollinating crops is not widespread in India and across South Asia, according to Dr. Basu. He attributes the ‚Äúpolitical noise‚ÄĚ in the U.S. and Europe on the pollinator problem to this identifiable domesticated bee colony collapse; however, he says that the results of his team‚Äôs research shows that it is clear that India is indeed experiencing a decline as well, albeit in the wild bee population.
According to the BBC news, pollination is estimated to be worth $224 billion globally each year. First reported in 2006, Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is unlike other ailments that have affected honey bees in the past because worker bees simply disappear rapidly, never returning to the hive where the queen still lives with a small cluster of bees amidst pollen and honey stores in the presence of immature bees (brood). CCD can be especially devastating since honey bees are essential pollinators of crops that constitute over one third of the U.S. food supply or $15 billion worth of food. It has been reported that losses of honey bee colonies across 21 states in the winter of 2007-8 averaged 35%, with a high degree of variability. Large declines of honey bee colonies were also experienced in select European countries, where average losses were 26%.
Dr. Basu says that the team is currently carrying out additional research comparing conventional agriculture to ‚Äúecological‚ÄĚ agriculture. He defines ‚Äėecological‚Äô as a sort of hybrid of conventional and organic farming, focusing on a system that is integrated, humane and environmentally and economically sustainable. He says that ecological farming provides habitats for natural pollinators and is ‚Äúthe way forward.‚ÄĚ
Research is ongoing as to the cause of the CCD phenomenon, but pesticides, especially neonictinoids, such as imidacloprid and thiacloprid, have been implicated. A recent study shows that due to a flaw in standard risk assessments, which consider toxic effects at fixed exposure times, the risks posed by imidacloprid and thiacloprid are likely to be underestimated. Another study found unprecedented levels of pesticide contamination in beehives, with 98 different kinds of pesticides and metabolites detected in mixtures up to 214 parts per million (ppm).
Beyond Pesticides believes that pesticides are likely to be a part of the CCD equation and a precautionary approach must be taken. Solutions to the loss of bees and human productivity are clearly within our reach if we engage our communities and governmental bodies. We know how to live in harmony with the ecosystem through the adoption of sustainable practices that simply do not allow toxic pesticide use. Because our survival depends on healthy pollinators, we must do everything in our power to solve this problem.
For more information on pollinators and CCD, read our factsheet: Pollinators and Pesticides: Escalating crisis demands action.
Source: BBC News