India’s vegetable farmers hit with ‘pollination crisis’

September 28th, 2010 - 12:59 pm ICT by ANI  

London, Sep 28 (ANI): Reduced vegetable production in India is an outcome of decline in the pollinating insects and it may limit people’s access to nutritional diet, scientists have warned.

Indian researchers said there was a “clear indication” that pollinator abundance was linked to productivity.

They added that the loss of the natural service could have a long-term impact on the farming sector, which accounts for almost a fifth of the nation’s GDP.

Each year, India produces about 7.5 million tonnes of vegetables. This accounts for about 14 percent of the global total, making the nation second only to China in the world’s vegetable production league table.

Despite the concern, no study had been done to assess directly the scale of the decline in natural pollinators, explained Parthiba Basu, from the University of Calcutta’s Ecology Research Unit.

“The ideal situation would have been if we were able to compare the overall pollinator abundance over the years, but that kind of data was just not available,” the BBC quoted him as saying.

Instead, his team compared the yields of pollinator-dependent crops with pollinator-independent crops.

“Data shows that the yields of pollinator-independent crops have continued to increase.

“On the other hand, pollinator-dependent crops have levelled off,” said Basu.

In an attempt to identify an underlying cause for the pollinator decline, the team is carrying out a series of field experiments, comparing conventional agriculture with “ecological farming”.

“There is an obvious indication that within the ecological farming setting, there is pollinator abundance. This method typically provides the habitats for natural pollinators - this is the way forward,” said Basu.

He added that if the team’s findings were extrapolated, this would offer a “clear indication” that India was facing a decline in natural pollinators, as ecological farming was only practiced on about 10-20 percent of the country’s arable land.

Basu said that vegetables such as pumpkins, squash, cucumber, and gherkins were “quite substantial” in terms of delivering necessary nutrients to the population.

“But there are many other vegetable crops that are eaten by people who are around the poverty level, so-called minor vegetable crops like eggplant, for which is there is no or very little data,” he explained.

In industrialised nations, such as the US and in Europe, many farms employ the services of commercial hives to pollinate fruit trees and food crops, and ensure they harvest adequate yields.

But Basu said the use of domesticated bees in this context was not widespread in South Asia.

“There are honey farmers, but using hives in the field to pollinate crops is not at all common in India.

“That is why a lot of the political noise about a global pollination crisis came from the US and Europe, because their managed/domesticated bee population was declining,” he said.

Dr Basu said that as a result of his team’s field experiments, it was clear that India too was experiencing a decline.

However, he cautioned: “There are many kinds of natural pollinators. As a result, we - not only in India, but in other parts of the world - do not really know what is happening to natural pollinator populations.”

The findings were presented at a recent British Ecological Society meeting, held at the University of Leeds. (ANI)

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