The role of pollinators.

Across India’s agrarian plains, plantations and orchards, millions of birds, bats and insects toil to pollinate crops. However, many of these thousands of species may be in dangerous decline.

How do pollinators help agriculture?

Pollinators lead to huge agricultural economic gains. The annual economic value of the crops pollinated by animals worldwide is estimated to be between $235 billion and $577 billion (in 2015). The pollinator contribution in India is around $0.831-1.5 billion annually for just six vegetable crops. 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. 

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 them out. In a series of studies at the University of Calcutta, 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 damages cells.

How is decline of pollinators affecting agriculture.

The value of animal-pollinated crops in India is in the tens of billions of dollars. Poor management of our pollinator species may be leading to lower crop yields and to losses of hundreds or thousands of crores annually.

Way ahead

  • Promoting organic farming.
  • Strong regulations underlying pesticide usage.
  • Better landscape management – A policy of direct payment support to farmers may be introduced to provide buffer strips for pollinators for nectar- and pollen-rich plants.
  • Fallow areas and government land can be used to plant flowering species for pollinators.
  • Restoration and protection of habitats for wild pollinators –
    The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has recently 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.
  • Better understanding of pollination systems – we have a very poor knowledge of the pollination systems of our animal pollinated crops, and how best we can manage the pollinators for optimal yields. There is a need of more investment in research on pollinators.

Sources: The Hindu and The Hindu