Pollinators, food security and the future of what we eat (by Natalia Britto dos Santos)

During my MSc in Ecology, Conservation and Wildlife Management at the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG), in Brazil, I took a course on ecosystem functions and services. During the course, we explored material and non-material benefits we receive from nature every day, most of them for free. This makes us not realize how essential they are, and how our destructive and dominant way of life over nature is threatening many of these ecosystem benefits, and consequently our own well-being and life.

We wrote a final paper on effects of a possible pollinator crisis on Brazil’s agriculture, and it was just published at PLOS One. The paper is open access and can be accessed here. There is also an article in a major Brazilian newspaper, in Portuguese which can be accessed here.

Brazil is one of the major agricultural producers in the world, providing a great diversity of crops for millions of people. We found out that 68% of the main crops produced in Brazil are dependent on pollinators, and a pollinator crisis could cost Brazil US$ 4.8-14.5 billion per year, considering the current monetary value of the crops.

However, money is not everything (it never is…), and there are also many potential social impacts: family farmers represent 74% of the agricultural workforce in Brazil; these farmers would be the main people to suffer negative impacts. We should consider food security issues and global impacts, which might impact all of us: most of the crops that depend on pollinators contribute largely to our diverse and colourful plates. And there might also be many other impacts related to non-monetary values such as the risk of losing traditional agricultural techniques, crops with cultural, historical and even spiritual values. These possibilities were not assessed in this paper, but would be worthy of investigation and until then we must at least consider them to have an idea of how big the problem is.

To avoid such a crisis, it is urgent we act! The first obvious need is to decrease agro-toxic uses, since Brazil is the biggest consumer in the world, using even very toxic ones that have been prohibited in many countries. But much more than that is necessary: we need to conserve natural habitats among plantations, use more agro-ecology techniques, promote organic agriculture. This requires involving many sectors: decision-makers, farmers, consumers… It is a challenging task, since we will be fighting many big companies and lobbies that dominate agricultural production in Brazil, a similar scenario in many countries. These companies only care about the profit they can get, regardless of environmental and social impacts of their practices.

We simply cannot continue to support these destructive activities. We only have one planet, and nutritive and variable food is an essential need and right for all living-beings. Next time you go to a market or eat fresh food, think about pollinators, organic and family farmers, and what you can do to help them…


Natalia Britto dos Santos is a PhD student at York University. Her research interests include ecosystem services, protected areas benefits, and the relations between nature conservation and human well-being.


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