Pollinators, including wild bees, but also butterflies, hummingbirds and bats, are vital to the success and diversity of world crops, so their plight threatens millions of livelihoods and hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of food supplies, says a report by the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) approved on 26 February.

The report, titled Thematic Assessment of Pollinators, Pollination and Food Production, is the result of a two-year effort to better understand and manage a critical element of the global ecosystem.  It is also the first assessment of its kind that is based on the available knowledge both from science and from indigenous and local knowledge systems.

Pollinators are responsible for making our diet a lot more varied, providing us with important micronutrients, minerals and vitamins. “Without pollinators, many of us would no longer be able to enjoy coffee, chocolate and apples, among many other foods that are part of our daily lives,” says Dr. Simon Potts, co-chair of the report.

“Unfortunately pollinators are facing many threats, which in turn influences the security of food supply to a growing world population,” says Kaja Peterson, of SEI Tallinn, who was involved in the report as a review editor (read her impressions about contributing to the IPBES assessment).

Altogether, 5–8% of global agricultural production is directly dependent on animal pollinators, the equivalent of 235-577 billion USD worth of annual food generation. Furthermore, over three-quarters of dominant global food crops are at least in part reliant on pollination by insects or other animals, the report stressed.

The main threats to pollinators are caused by human activities such as the growing levels of pesticides used in agriculture, pollution and invasive species, but also biodiversity loss due to large fields of monocultures and less wild flowers, as well as the effects of climate change, the report shows.

Already 16.5% of pollinators are threatened with extinction globally, and over 40% of pollinator species are facing extinction. The decline in numbers of pollinators could in turn lead to lower crop yields and higher prices for consumers.

Possible policy options for tackling these issues and protecting pollinators according to the report include better protection of ecosystems and natural environments, limiting intensive agriculture, and finding alternatives to pesticides.

The IPBES – which plays a similar role for biodiversity as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) does for climate science – was created four years ago to connect international scientific understanding and public policy-making.

The pollinators assessment is the first report issued by the body. Nearly 80 international scientists contributed to it. The report was approved by representatives of 124 nations on Friday, February 26 after 20 hours of negotiations in the framework of the fourth session of the Platform’s Plenary (IPBES-4) held from 22 to 28 February in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Read an IPBES press release on the report »