The decline of wild bees in China threatens more than just its apple and pear harvests, says pollination expert Dave Goulson.In the last 50 years, the global human population has nearly doubled, while the average calories consumed per person has increased by about 30%.
To cope with the ever growing demand for food, more land has been brought into agricultural production, mainly by clearing forests, and farming has become much more intensive. Fertilisers, pesticides, and development of new plant varieties have allowed farmers to increase the average yield of food per hectare to increase by 130% in the same period.
It is obvious that this pattern cannot go on for ever; we will run out of forests to clear, and we cannot squeeze ever more food from the same area of land. There are cracks beginning to show; highly intensive farming may not be sustainable in the long term.
Globally, about 75 billion tons of soil is lost every year, washed away or blown out to sea after ploughing. Three hundred and twenty million hectares of land have been affected by a build up of salt due to irrigation practices. Roughly 40% of all agricultural land is now degraded in one way or another.
The role of bees and pollinatorsFarming and human health depend upon the ecosystem services provided by wild organisms; worms, woodlice, millipedes and a host of other creatures which help with soil formation, forests to produce oxygen, prevent soil erosion and regulate water flow, birds to eat insect pests, flies and beetles to break down animal dung, bees and other pollinators to pollinate crops.
Modern farming threatens to eradicate these organism, and so undermine itself.
Pollination provides one of the clearest examples of how our disregard for the health of the environment threatens our own survival. About 75% of all crop species require pollination by animals of some sort, often by bees, but sometimes by flies, butterflies, birds or even bats.
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