Knowledge for better food systems

IPBES Assessment report: Pollinators vital to our food supply under threat

More than three-quarters of the world's food crops are at least partly dependent on pollination and in many regions over 40 percent of the bees and the butterflies are threatened with extinction, according to a new report entitled Thematic Assessment of Pollinators, Pollination and Food Production.

The report is based on a two-year study by the UN equivalent of the IPCC for biodiversity, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). 

The IPBES assessment team of 77 experts from all over the world evaluated an extensive body of knowledge on pollinators, pollination and food production.  The assessment cites approximately 3,000 scientific papers and includes information about practices based on indigenous and local knowledge from more than 60 locations globally. The assessment found that a growing number of pollinator species worldwide are being driven toward extinction by diverse pressures, many of them human-made, threatening millions of livelihoods and hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of food supplies.

It highlights the value both in economic, social and cultural terms of pollinators and their role in ensuring future food security and recommends ways of safeguarding pollinators as follows:

  • Maintaining or creating greater diversity of pollinator habitats in agricultural and urban landscapes;
  • Supporting traditional practices that manage habitat patchiness, crop rotation, and coproduction between science and indigenous local knowledge;
  • Education and exchange of knowledge among farmers, scientists, industry, communities, and the general public;
  • Decreasing exposure of pollinators to pesticides by reducing their usage, seeking alternative forms of pest control, and adopting a range of specific application practices, including technologies to reduce pesticide drift; and
  • Improving managed bee husbandry for pathogen control, coupled with better regulation of trade and use of commercial pollinators.

Additional report findings:

  • A high diversity of wild pollinators contributes to increased stability in pollination, even when managed bees are present in high numbers.
  • Crop yields depend on both wild and managed species.
  • The western honey bee is the most widespread managed pollinator in the world, producing an estimated 1.6 million tonnes of honey annually.  
  • The number of beehives has increased globally over the past 50 years, but a decrease in hives has occurred in many European and North American countries.
  • Climate change has led to changes in the distribution of many pollinating bumblebees and butterflies and the plants that depend upon them.

Read more about the report on the IPBES website (press release) and more about the pollinators programme here. Note that this is the Summary for Policymakers which was adopted at the IPBES Plenary (Feb 2016). The full report with all the chapters and their executive summaries is due to be published at the end of May 2016.

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While some of the food system challenges facing humanity are local, in an interconnected world, adopting a global perspective is essential. Many environmental issues, such as climate change, need supranational commitments and action to be addressed effectively. Due to ever increasing global trade flows, prices of commodities are connected through space; a drought in Romania may thus increase the price of wheat in Zimbabwe.

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