Worldwide, the number of insect pollinators has declined sharply in recent years. Beekeepers have experienced heavy loss of honey bee colonies; in the United States, the number of managed colonies is half of what it was sixty or seventy years ago (USDA). The number of wild pollinators has also fallen. In China, insect pollinators are so scarce that apple blossoms must be pollinated by hand, using brushes! (Goulson, 2012 in Chinadialogue; www.tinyurl.com/ps4cvou) Though numbers are difficult to quantify, Dr. Baldwyn Torto at ICIPE (African Insect Science for Food and Health, previously the International Center for Insect Physiology and Ecology) has also commented on a decline in the number of bees in East Africa. He pointed out that Kenya, formerly a producer of indigenous honey, now imports honey (Coordination Team, 2013).
Insects pollinate three quarters of flowering plant species—and more than half of human food crops—so this decline in insect pollinators is a sobering reality. Pollinators affect the diversity, abundance and quality of food crops (FAO, 2008).
Holly Sobetski, ECHO Florida Seed Bank Manager
The ECHO Florida Seed Bank offers a wide variety of useful crops, many of which naturally attract pollinators (Fig. 3). Encouraging beneficial insects in your garden is a key component in promoting biodiversity, controlling unwanted pests and increasing pollination of your crops.
If you live in the tropics, you may have noticed that plants that are normally self- or wind-pollinated in cooler climates are often heavily visited by bees, wasps and other insects. Insect activity can result in some crossing, even between plants of a mostly self-pollinating crop. If you are growing plants for seed, therefore, you may need to isolate varieties. For the most part, though, the heightened insect activity is a great benefit of living where it is hot and humid.
Nathanael Szobody submitted the following in response to an update in EDN 123 on research ECHO is doing in South Africa. We thought these comments were particularly interesting and insightful, as they illustrate the contribution that farmers can make to further our understanding of agricultural practices such as intercropping. We appreciate the time that Nathanael took to observe what was going on in a farmer’s field and to send ECHO a written assessment. Below, Nathanael’s comments are interspersed with notes by Tim Motis; the latter are in italics and within square brackets.