Can you imagine not waking up to your morning cup of coffee? Wouldn’t it be disappointing to reach into your fridge and not find your favourite bar of chocolate? Did you know that we owe coffee, chocolate, and a long list of other foods such as vanilla, almond, cashew, most fruits andvegetables to tiny insects that help pollinate the plants that they are derived from? A vast majority of the world’s crops rely, at least in part, on insect pollinators such as bees, flies and butterflies. Pollinators transfer pollen between flowers, facilitating fertilization which leads to fruit formation. Pollination is crucial to maintaining a healthy, smooth-functioning ecosystem. Pollination aids better genetic mixing and consequently the formation of better quality fruit and healthier plants. Bees and other insects help maintain variety in our diets and pollinate foods such as fruits, vegetables, pulses, spices and oilseeds that are storehouses of essential micronutrients. In other words, pollinators are vital for the health of the environment, for conserving plant biodiversity, for sustainable food production and for nutritionally secure diets.

A growing human population necessitates increased food production. The cultivation of pollinator-dependent crops is on the rise and so is the need for pollinators. But is there a proportional increase in pollinator numbers? Habitat loss and degradation, disappearing green and open spaces in cities, increase of monocultures and usage of chemicals in agricultural landscapes pose serious threats. The situation is further exacerbated by shifting climatic patterns, extreme climate events, anomalies in flowering patterns and increased susceptibility to diseases and pests. A report from the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization states that insects will be at the forefront of biodiversity loss in the future, with 40% of invertebrate pollinator species, particularly bees and butterflies facing extinction.

It is clear that conserving pollinators is critical for human wellbeing. Creating spaces that can support them is the next step. Much of the world is rapidly  urbanizingand pristine areas of natural vegetation are shrinking. This is especially true of Indian cities. Bengaluru’s built up area, for example, has more than tripled between 1990 and 2015. Is it, then, possible to support pollinators within urban spaces? Recent studies indicate that it might indeed be an endeavour that is worth making. Most vegetables, fruits and herbs make great host plants for bees and other pollinators. Incorporating greenery into the city in the form of edible gardens has multiple benefits. Growing our own food not only ensures access to fresh, nutritionally intact and pesticide-free produce but can help make cities more self sufficient, biodiversity-inclusive and sustainable.

To what extent does a Bengalurean’s diet depend on pollinators? Can edible gardening be scaled up in the city? Help us find out by taking the survey at the link below!

Chethana V Casiker is Research Associate at Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment. M Soubadra Devy is Senior Fellow at Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment. The researchers are affiliated to Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, Bengaluru. The study is part of the SHEFs (Sustainable and Healthy Food Systems) global research programme, funded by the Wellcome Trust.

Bee on flower of hyacinth bean (photo credit: Jagadish Kumar B)