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Bees Help Crops and could Keep Food Prices Stable

Stable and predictable food production is essential for farmers and global food security. We are currently witnessing how food system instability or shocks can result in dramatic increases in food prices.

Shivam Dwivedi
Bees & Flower:  A Symbiotic Relationship
Bees & Flower: A Symbiotic Relationship

Supporting and improving pollinators could help stabilize the production of important crops such as oilseeds and fruit, reducing the type of uncertainty that causes food price spikes, according to new research. Years of data on the poorly understood effect of pollinators on crop yield stability were analyzed by scientists at the University of Reading.

Findings of Study:

They discovered that plants visited by bees and other pollinators had 32% less variation in yields than plants grown without pollinators. The study, which was published in the journal Ecology Letters, suggests that pollinators can help to mitigate supply issues and market shocks that cause global price spikes such as those seen this year by keeping food supplies stable.

Dr. Jake Bishop, the study's principal investigator and a crop science researcher at the University of Reading, stated: “Our findings suggest that conserving pollinators has a dual benefit of reducing fluctuations in food supplies while also increasing supply in the first place.”

Stable and predictable food production is essential for farmers and global food security." We are currently witnessing how food system instability or shocks can result in dramatic increases in food prices.”

The study has revealed yet another reason why pollinators are so vital to our planet and to so many families struggling to provide adequate, safe, and nutritious food. Pollinators are particularly important in the production of fruit and vegetable crops. Around half of the experiments we looked at tested the effect of real pollinator populations in real crop fields, so our findings highlight the current benefits that pollinators provide.

While pollinators are well known for increasing crop yield, their impact on crop stability was previously unknown. The new study combined the findings of over 200 previous experiments that compared crop plant yield with and without insect pollination. The study concentrated on three globally significant issues.

The research concentrated on three globally significant and representative crop species: faba bean, oilseed rape, and apples. The study looked at how pollination affects yield stability within individual plants and fields as well as across larger areas. Insect pollination consistently increased the similarity of yields between flowers on a plant, individual plants, areas within fields, and fields.

Pollination is thought to have a stabilizing effect due to a ceiling effect, in which the yield increase caused by insect pollination reaches an upper limit due to limitations in other resources that support crop growth, such as soil nutrients or access to water. This results in a higher and more stable baseline against which yield fluctuates less.

Current food price increases are being driven by a variety of factors, including high oil prices and Ukraine's reduced ability to export its products following Russia's invasion. Ukraine is the world's largest exporter of sunflower oil and accounts for roughly 10% of global wheat exports. A previous food price spike in 2007-08, when the price of major global food crops nearly doubled, is thought to have been fueled in part by wheat production losses totaling approximately 4.6 percent globally.

Historical Royal Palaces created the Tower of London Superbloom attraction to attract pollinators by creating a thriving new natural landscape in an otherwise urban area. 20 million seeds have now bloomed in the Tower's moat, providing a rich source of food and nectar for pollinators and creating new biodiverse habitat in the heart of London.

(Source: University of Reading)

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