Pollinators Decline: A Major Threat of Malnutrition

Pollination is a process of transferring pollen from the anther to the stigma of a plant, thereby enabling fertilization and reproduction of the species and production of crops.

Though to improve the crop yield, pollinators (honey bees, bumblebees etc.) are often brought to commercial plantings of many crops. However natural pollination is gaining ecological and financial importance because of the quality and quantity of the yielded crops. It has been noticed that a forest or wild grassland with native pollinators near agricultural crops, can improve the yield by about 20%.

According to the experts, the value of bee pollination in human nutrition is immense and difficult to quantify. It is commonly said that about 40% of human nutrition is due to bee pollination. However no scientific studies have actually tested the importance of pollinators on human nutritional health, yet.

A recent study led by scientists of the University of Vermont and Harvard University, for the first time, has established an association between human nutrition and pollinating requirements. They report that decline of pollinators can cause hazardous impact to human health, with quite scary numbers for vitamin A deficiencies, leading to blindness and increase death rates for some diseases, including malaria for example. Previous studies in this field have shown connection between pollinators and crop yields and also between crop yields and the availability of food and nutrients.

Scientists around the globe have observed a worrisome decline of many pollinator species, responsible for the supply of nutrients. Thus the world’s food supply is threatened.  This new research takes a further step ahead. They examined the full pathway from pollinators to detailed data survey about people’s daily diets in parts of Zambia, Mozambique, Uganda and Bangladesh. They noticed that in some populations (parts of Mozambique) disappearance of pollinators could push up to 56% of people over the edge into malnutrition because many children and mothers are barely able to meet their needs for micronutrients, especially vitamin A and folate. However they also observed alarming effects in some countries for some nutrients and little to no effect elsewhere. They noticed a huge difference between Bangladesh, and Zambia: In Bangladesh many people are malnourished and so reduction in vitamin A intake due to pollinator decline may lead to vitamin A deficiency where as Zambia is relatively insulated from this risk, because there is so much vitamin A in their diet already that it didn’t push very many people below the threshold.

 This new study fits into a promising field of research exploring how human health is affected by the fast transformation of Earth’s natural systems. Experts think that human health can be spoiled by damage of ecosystem and thus conservation can be considered as an investment for a healthy society.

Journal Reference:

Alicia M. Ellis, Samuel S. Myers, Taylor H. Ricketts. Do Pollinators Contribute to Nutritional Health? PLoS ONE, 2015; 10 (1): e114805

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Arunima Maiti

Arunima Maiti

Biomedical scientist with special interest in reproductive biology.

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