Assessing the contribution of pollination to sustainable horticultural production
This project aimed to help smallholder farmers in Ghana, Kenya, India and Nepal to look at the costs and benefits of introducing pro-pollinator practices.
Ecosystem services, if respected by actions and policy, can sustain agriculture and human livelihoods. If disregarded, their neglect can lead to a decrease of the capacity of ecosystems to produce abundant and healthy foods, along with other goods and services.
Pollination services are a key example of ecosystem services that sustain agriculture and livelihoods. Pollinators are essential for orchard, horticultural and forage production, as well as the production of seeds for many root and fibre crops.
About two-thirds of the crop plants that feed the world, plus many plant-derived medicines, rely on pollination by insects or other animals to produce healthy fruits and seeds.
Yet mounting evidence points to a potentially serious decline in populations of pollinators. Maintaining and increasing yields in horticultural crops under agricultural development is critically important to health, nutrition, food security and better farm incomes for poor farmers. Ecosystem services like pollination, nutrient cycling and pest control can support sustainable production intensification.
Soaring food prices present challenges and opportunities to farmers in developing countries. Higher food prices are also accompanied by equally sharp spikes in the prices of agricultural inputs. Farmers urgently need better tools to understand and decide the costs and benefits of all farming inputs and practices. Better tools are also needed to optimise input costs and benefit, where possible, from better prices for high-value crops.
Although often neglected, pollination services are also an important agricultural input to many horticultural crops. Their management for sustained production has many interactions and tradeoffs with other inputs, including use of pesticides and herbicides.
Standard techniques for estimating costs and benefits of pollinator-friendly practices have been reviewed in an earlier phase, in collaboration with the Center for Development Research at the University of Bonn, Germany. These methods need a baseline set up, against which the effects of changing practices can be assessed.
The documentation needed to set up a baseline gives an opportunity to work with farmers to record inputs and practices. The challenge is to motivate and build capacity for farmers to keep regular and useful records that will be reliable and meaningful.
As well as helping farmers optimise production costs, record keeping may also add value to crops in the marketplace. Recording practices and better identifying inputs and outputs are procedures that are becoming increasingly important in certification schemes. Many of the high-value horticultural crops that are rapidly growing in extent of production, and often under certification systems, are highly pollinator-dependent.