Insects worldwide are facing increasingly hard times, but they may receive a helping hand from a group of people who may view certain insects as foes: farmers.
Scientists have long been warning of an impending apocalypse of insects owing to the extensive use of pesticides, habitat loss, pollution, climate change and other stressors. The effects of insects disappearing would be devastating and range from crop failures triggered by a lack of pollinators to the collapse of entire finely tuned ecosystems.
Yet the possible role of farmers in conservation efforts has often been overlooked, even though nearly 40% of the planet’s land areas are used for agriculture, a team of scientists says.
“Mitigating pollinator declines in agriculturally dominated landscapes to safeguard pollination services requires the involvement of farmers and their willingness to adopt pollinator-friendly management. However, farmer knowledge, perceptions, and actions to support on-farm pollinators and their alignment with science-based knowledge and recommendations are rarely evaluated,” the researchers, who work at the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg in Germany, explain in a new study.
To remedy that shortcoming, the scientists interviewed 560 farmers in 11 nations across the world from Europe to Central America and from Asia to Oceania. The goal was to find out what these farmers knew about local pollinator diversity and how engaged they were in insect conservation efforts.
“Honey bees and wild bees were by far the most important pollinators in our survey. Many farmers keep those insects themselves, in particular honey bees, to make sure their crops are pollinated,” explains Julia Osterman, a biologist at the university who led the research.
It was specific conditions in various locales that caused farmers to regard certain insects as important or not. Avocado farmers in Australia, for instance, rated flies highly as useful pollinators whereas flies were seen to be of no importance for farmers elsewhere. “This is mainly due to differences in the dominant insects among regions,” Osterman observes.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the researchers found that local farmers knew all about the important role pollinators play in agriculture. “Farmers are extremely knowledgeable about pollinators — and their knowledge shouldn’t be undervalued when it comes to planning species conservation measures,” Osterman says.
A quarter of the farmers surveyed had even planted strips of flowers and hedges so as to entice insects to their plots. “These initiatives have mainly been carried out in countries that have state subsidies for them,” Osterman says. “There should be more flexible funding options that are tailored to local conditions and that can be easily implemented” with a view to encouraging farmers to protect local insect populations.
“Many of the respondents also said that they would like to interact more with scientists in this field,” the scientist stresses. “We need new formats to facilitate cooperation and interaction between research and practice.”
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