Why farmers must treasure insects

Friday April 05 2019

Insects such as honeybees play a big role in crop pollination. Courtesy PHOTO.

One thing farmers do not take keen interest in is the importance of insects which move in search of plant nectars and in the process end up pollinating the crops for farmers to achieve good yield.
Pollinators provide important ecosystem service for human well-being. Therefore, identifying and managing diversity of pollinators has a significant effect on the conservation and improvement of agricultural yield in terms of quality and quantity on farms.

This is the thinking of scientists majoring in analysing natural sciences, in particular the importance insects play in pollinating farm lands with various types of plants leading to good yield.

Role of pollinators
In a research article published in 2017 in MedCrave by scientists at the Ethiopian Biodiversity Institute College of Forestry and Natural Resources concerning the perception of farmers in Gozamin District on the importance of insect pollinators, it is stated that,
“Biodiversity and many ecosystem services provide a key contributory and constitutive factor determining human well-being. Pollination is among a valuable ecosystem services which provides a variety of benefits including food and fibre, plant-derived medicines, ornamentals, aesthetics, genetic diversity and overall ecosystem resilience.”

It is stated that about two thirds of the crop plants that feed the world and many plant-derived medicines, relies on pollination by insects or animals in order to produce viable seeds.
They define pollinators as insects, including honey bees as well as birds and some mammals which transfer pollen from one flower to another.

They provide ecosystem service that result in the out-crossing and sexual reproduction of many plants which end up benefiting human society by increasing food production and food security.
The pollinators play a great role in conserving biological diversity in agricultural and natural ecosystems and where there is reduced agricultural yield this is as a result of reduced insufficient pollination.

In an interview with Seeds of Gold, Prof Anne M. Akol, department of Zoology, Entomology & Fisheries Sciences, College of Natural Sciences, Makerere University explains the role of pollinators to farmers.


Importance of pollination
Prof Akol and a team of scientists from the College of Natural Sciences for the last two years, have been studying the butterfly and moth pollinators in the farmlands around Mabira forest.
Their mission is to determine how many pollinator species occur and how the changing vegetation in and around the forest is affecting the number of these pollinators.

“As a country we have very limited information about our insect pollinators and there is at present no deliberate action to protect or make use of this valuable agricultural and environmental resource,” she said. The team has established that around Mabira forest there are at least 90 different types of butterflies and moths that pollinate the various flowering crop/plant species, including the wild vegetation.

These butterflies and moths work alongside other insect pollinators such as bees. However the communities in this area are unaware of the importance of pollinators.
They are carrying out practices that threaten the existence thereby upsetting activities of these insect pollinators. A case in point is the widespread and routine use of insecticides meant for pests which kills the pollinators while herbicides used to remove weeds denies the pollinators food and shelter.
Many families in this area grow pawpaw on a commercial scale and therefore require moth pollinators for pawpaw plants to achieve required size of fruits.

Best pollinators
Prof Akol explained that there are many types of insect pollinators but the most important are bees, butterflies, moths and flies such as wasps and beetles. Many people believe honeybees are the most important pollinators but this is not quite true.

There are other types of bees such as carpenter bees, stingless bees, mason bees, resin bees, leafcutter bees and sweat bees that are more important than honeybees for pollination. Flowering plants may be pollinated by one or more than one kind of insect pollinator. A case in point is pawpaws which are pollinated by moths, coffee flowers are pollinated by bees, flies and wasps while mango flowers are pollinated by flies, wasps and ants.

What a farmer lacking insects to pollinate their plants should do
Prof Akol and team contend that in most developing countries including Uganda the population of insects pollinators seem to be reducing. They blame this on human activity and farmers have resorted to hand-pollination techniques of pollinating their crops, which is a very laborious and inefficient process. But in countries such as US and United Kingdom, farmers hire honeybees from beekeepers for a few weeks so that the honeybees can pollinate their crops.
However, certain crops are not efficiently pollinated by honeybees. To prevent such a situation from happening in Uganda Prof Akol is urging areas of natural vegetation to be protected in order to sustain beneficial pollinator insects.

Why farmers in Uganda must care about pollination
It is Prof Akol’s contention that pollination is an important aspect in the farming system in Uganda because there are several forms of plants among them the flowering plants were fruits seeds are developed.
Most of these flowering plants are grown from seeds although some plants can be grown from other plant parts such as stems.
Therefore for these plants to produce a fruit, pollination has to take place.

This is through a process when pollen grains from the male part anther of a flower get into contact with the female part stigma.

The pollen grains are moved by pollinators, which include insects, wind, water and a few other mammals such as fruit bats, bush babies and sunbirds.

Insect pollinators are the commonest and among the most important pollinators.
The majority of flowering plants are pollinated by insects and if these plants are not pollinated, then they fail to produce fruit and seed, meaning farmers will be at a loss.