A research from Prof. Saraiva-PCS, published on Science journal, shows that raising the pollinator count in small farms increases the agricultural production.
Promoting biodiversity can be a sustainable way to increase the food supply worldwide, especially the production from small farmers. A study published today, January 22th, in the Science journal, shows that the productivity gap between small agricultural areas with low and high output could be improved by 24% on average, only raising the number of floral visitors (pollinators). For improvement on large properties, one should also diversify the visitor’ species. The study had the participation of researchers from the Research Support Center (NAP) on Biodiversity and Computing (Biocomp), based at USP.
Pollinators are “responsible” for carrying the pollen from one flower to another, promoting plant fertilization. They can be of various types, from animals to wind. However, the majority of the pollinators and the most common are the insects, mostly bees.
Researchers from NAP Biocomp organized the database from information collected at rural properties. They analyzed 344 fields of 33 different crop production systems that are pollinator dependent, in small and large properties located in Asia, Africa and Latin America. These crops include cotton, canola, cashew, apples, melons, tomatoes, coffee, mango, cucumber, radish, raspberry, sunflower, and cardamom, among others.
“Some plant species require the pollinator presence in order to grow fruit and seeds. If you do not have the pollinator, the plant does not generate the fruit, or generates but with a much lower efficiency, so these plants are called pollinator dependent”, explains Antonio Saraiva, professor at the Polytechnic School (Poli) of USP, coordinator of NAP BioCamp, and one of the authors of the study.
Therefore, the amount of pollinator plant visits impacts the productivity. In the study, researchers identified the relationship between the production increase in small farms (those with up to 2 hectares) related to pollinator visitors density. For larger areas, only the count of floral visitors did not impact productivity, but the diversification of species visitors did.
“When dealing with large properties, it is common the presence of pollinators able to long range flights, which often are not specific to a plant. These pollinators can visit several plants in a larger area. Therefore, to increase the floral visitors in large areas, it is necessary to diversify the species to raise the visitation in the same plant”, explain the professor.
The study warns that many agricultural production systems have neglected the importance of pollinator. “There is a stimulus for soil related management practices, but we all almost forgot the importance of pollination. Our research shows that only increasing pollinator, we have an increase of 24% in the production of small properties.”, says Saraiva.
The productivity of small farmers has a direct impact on the food security issue. The research published in Science shows that there are over 2 billion people in developing countries that are dependent on food production from small farms.
Professor Saraiva also noted the need of care on pollinators conservation, which are mostly bees. Studies point the relationship between the bee disappearance and the indiscriminate use of pesticides.
“As pollinators are threatened, it is necessary to review this trend, proposing actions such as: plantation lines with flowering plants that pollinators can feed in times when the culture itself has no flower; more appropriate use of pesticides during periods when there are fewer pollinators; natural areas restoration at the vicinity of crops, because they serve as shelter and food supply for pollinators when crops are not with flowers.”
The paper Mutually beneficial pollinator diversity and crop yield outcomes in small and large farms, published in Science, is the result of a work developed by researchers from 18 countries, based on data from cultures from 12 nations (Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, China, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan and Norway).
The starting point was a research project developed between 2010 and 2014. Called the “Conservation and Management of Pollinators for Sustainable Agriculture through an Ecosystemic Approach”, funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and has been run by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The purpose was to study pollination in crops of each one of the 12 countries.
In Brazil, the project was the focal point Ministry of Environment and was attended by several research institutions. In the website Pollinators of Brazil, it is possible to find more information on the Brazilian participation.
Foto: Wikimedia Commons/Andreas Trepte