Pollinator Friendly Farming
BeeLife recently participated in the event 'Pollinator Friendly Farming: What's Possible Now?'. During the discussion, it recalled the importance of pollinators, the challenges they face and measures to improve the current situation. This year, we celebrated for the first time the World Bee Day. The day has been officially instated by the UN to remind us how important it is to protect insects and other animals. They perform the essential and silent task of ensuring the fertility of this planet and our food security. Besides, they protect several sources of income, provision of healthy foodstuffs, and the maintenance of cultural heritage and rural dynamism. Bees teach us to think in large scale and in long-term, particularly when we need to take into account that: • Reports show that there is more than 75% loss of insect biomass in 27 years in German natural areas; • Butterflies and wild bees populations are decreasing over time; • Beekeepers have increased their efforts to maintain their populations of honey bees over the last thirty years; • Main problems observed in agricultural areas, where a confluence of stressing factors for bee health coexist, such as lack of nutritional sources, pesticide exposure, or loss of habitat; All of these facts bring along one message: today's agriculture is not good enough for pollinators. These conditions lead to consequences to the agriculture itself. Risks for pollinators mean as well risks for agricultural stability.
Pollen dispersal is a production factor for yields, as important as water or nutrients, but hardly ever considered by farmers. We need to shift our mindset and allocate the efforts necessary to allow pollinators to do their job. What do pollinators need? Like any other living being, they need food, water, shelter and reproduction. Moreover, they need those in quantity and quality. The European Commission has already included some potentially useful tools in the current Common Agricultural Policy. However, both government and the agricultural industry could further benefit from them. For example, crop rotations could have included a reduction in the use of pesticides and fertilisers. BeeLife has found that, unfortunately, farmers have not yet exploited such potential. Rotating cereals, sugar beet and potatoes does not provide any food, water or shelter for pollinators. However, this is the typical crop rotation in many industrialised agricultural areas. The fight to ban pesticides use in Ecological Focus Areas was long. Also, although evidence shows that flowering strips or hedgerows serve as a suitable provision of food and shelter for pollinators and wild animals, it is also true that their location in the landscape can turn them into traps. Even if farmers use the best farming practices, they cannot control the future exposure of products used in their fields. The fate of the products depends on themselves, considering their persistence, their water solubility, their volatility, and other factors. The safest pesticides are those that are not used. Therefore, several tools included in the second pillar of the CAP that involve the multiplication of nutritional resources in the environment, need to be applied hand in hand with a reduction of the use of pesticides in the nearby crops. If we succeed in applying these tools along with reducing pesticide use, we could be able to turn the negative cycle into a positive one: one of ecological intensification (intensifying yields just by increasing the movement of pollen among flowers).
To achieve ecological intensification, BeeLife asks farmers to recover agronomical practices such as the of use resistant varieties, avoid planting varieties that are unadapted to specific areas or soils. As well, include pulses and oilseeds into rotations, if possible use robust plants that dispense treatments, and explore mutual funds and insurance schemes as an alternative to pesticide treatment or apply technology and innovation (particularly nature-based solutions). We also ask institutions to foster dialogue between beekeepers and farmers, because respect to each others' work comes from the understanding of each other's needs, from equal to equal. All these tools are available today. Nothing needs to be created. We need only the will for these changes to happen. For the next CAP, we cannot go backwards. We need measures that follow this logic, expanding available tools to ensure a safe transition for farmers towards increased sustainability and accountability. For the latter, we propose pollinator indicator as a tracer of the efficacy of policies for ecosystem health. These are all efforts to support the quality of life for bees and ourselves.