Loss of essential pollinator insects because of the changing climate could lead to some of our favorite treats getting a lot more expensive, research has found.
Various plant crops such as coffee, cocoa, watermelon and mango are under threat because of declining pollinator biodiversity—particularly in the tropics—as a result of climate change and agricultural land use change, a new study in the journal Science Advances reveals.
Areas that will be worst affected by this pollinator loss include sub-Saharan Africa, northern South America and Southeast Asia, which is where coffee and cocoa plants are primarily grown, the researchers’ model shows.
“We investigated how pollinator abundance changes under agriculture and climate change,” Tim Newbold, a principal research fellow in genetics, evolution and environment at University College London and co-author of the paper, told Newsweek.
He continued: “Then comparing places where we estimate large declines in pollinator abundance with where we grow crops that need animals for pollination, we estimate where there may be risks to the production of these crops. Our results reveal that areas where we grow coffee and cocoa are expected to be strongly affected.”
If these crops become less and less abundant with climate change, they may get increasingly expensive if demand outpaces supply.
“It would be difficult to attribute any changes in coffee/cocoa prices that we have seen to pollinator losses versus other factors, such as effects of weather/climate change or economic effects,” Newbold said. “However, if we lose pollinator abundance in the future, as our results suggest we will, we would expect increases in the prices of crops like coffee and cocoa.”
While coffee appears to be declining in price, it is now more expensive than it was in 2019 and 2020.
The loss of pollinators in the tropics and around the world will have wide-reaching impacts on millions of plants. About 75 percent of crops rely to some degree on animal pollinators.
“Pollinator decline is a serious threat to food security and nutritional well-being,” Siobhan Maderson, a research associate in human geography at Cardiff University, told Newsweek.
She went on: “While people will not starve in the context of declining pollinators—most of the world’s key sources of caloric input are non-pollinator-dependent, including wheat, maize and rice—most of the key crops which are economically valuable for producers, and nutritionally important to people worldwide, are pollinator-dependent. These include many fruits, vegetables, nuts, spices and coffee.”
Maderson said cocoa and coffee, among other crops, suffer from other challenges such as pests, fungal infections and climate change.
“There are also symbiotic challenges threatening global crops, as climate change is a threat to pollinators and is also associated with increasing pests that damage crops,” she said. “Industrial food production increasingly relies on managed pollination. However, this is highly risky, due to a decreasing variety of pollinators being relied upon.”
Researchers are hoping to find ways to protect pollinators from the changing climate and the impact of widespread agriculture in order to preserve the crops we know and love. This is important not only for our consumption of these crops but also for the small-scale farmers whose incomes rely on selling these crops around the world.
“To support pollinator well-being, there are several important changes needed: ensure diverse, healthy habitat for pollinators [and] incorporate agroecological practices into food production, such as including mixed cropping and encouraging diverse small-scale production, which is associated with increased biodiversity amidst food-producing landscapes,” Maderson said.
She said tropical deforestation is also a serious risk to pollinators and coffee crops as well as other tropical crops, as mixed landscape use is associated with higher biodiversity and pollinator activity.
“Last, but definitely not least, everyone should do everything in their power to stop climate change, as this is a serious threat to our food system, both on its own and in conjunction with other challenges to our food supply, such as pollinator decline,” she said.
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