How important are bees and other pollinating insects for crop yields? ‘It is difficult to quantify but it is generally accepted that over a third of the food we eat depends on the unmanaged pollination services of insects’ (UK Food and Environment Research Agency). ‘Pollinators such as bees, birds and bats affect 35 percent of the world’s crop production, increasing outputs of 87 of the leading food crops worldwide, plus many plant-derived medicines’ (Food and Agriculture Organisation).
Pollination is critical for natural plant communities. In temperate regions, approximately 78% of angiosperms rely on pollinators and in tropical systems 94% of angiosperms reply on pollinators. (2) Specifically for agricultural production, 75% of our crop species need pollinators for fruit and seed production. In terms of volume, that equates to only 35% by volume largely due to the massive production of wind-pollinated staple crops such as cereals and sugarcane.
The Wikipedia topic entitled List of crop plants pollinated by bees (1) has over 100 crops where pollination by bees has been shown to be important.
The crops that are generally associated with bee pollination provide us with vitamins and nutrients which are essential for health. They also provide colour, taste and variety without which we would all suffer. Economically they are of high value and should provide a sustainable good livelhood for millions of farmers and rural communities.
In the Philippines in addition to the well known crops of mangos, coffee, coconuts, squash and cotton, many other crops benefit from bee pollination and include peppers, star fruit, kiwi, cashew, rambutan, macadamia, sunflowers, papaya, lychee, guava, watermelon, cucumber, gourd, luffa, avocado, pechay, cowpea, cocoa, passion fruit, oil palm, beans, tangerine, tomatoes and others.
In the Philippines where so many crops depend on insects (mainly bees) to a large extent for their productivity, an appreciation of pollination is vitally important and it should be a ‘hot topic’ for farmers and the wider society.
It is hoped that the wide-ranging and abundant evidence (3) (4) (5) of the importance of pollination in general, and bee pollination in particular will make some impact on agriculturalists and policy makers in the Philippines. Currently the Philippine Department of Agriculture appears to pay little or no attention to this fundemental factor and the impact it has on many important crops. The lack of engagement by key Philippine government departments may be partly responsible for a general lack of awareness even in many university agricultural departments of just how vital bees and pollination are to agricultural productivity.
It will take time to build a significant beekeeping sector, and it is important to consider the current and future status of the native pollinators. Thinking now and acting as soon as possible to improve awareness of the issues and to bring about ‘honey gathering’ rather than ‘honey hunting’ in rural communities could then have widespread benefits for the millions of farmers dependant on the many crops associated with bee pollination.
With education the worsening situation can be reversed but it will require ‘awareness building’ via schools, the media and even the supermarkets. The financial inputs needed would be extremely modest in comparison to the potentially immense financial, environmental and social gains. Indeed, can we afford not to take appropriate action?
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1) List of crop plants pollinated by bees
2) The Economic Valuation of Pollinators for Southeast
Asia: Philippines and Vietnam
3) Global action on pollination services for sustainable agriculture
Food and Agriculture Organisation
4) Global Pollination Project leaflet by the Food & Agriculture Organisation
5) The value of bees for crop pollination
Food and Agriculture Organisation