Pollinators play a central role in the reproductive propagation of flowering plants. Tiny insects or animals which act as pollinators include honey bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, bats, and ants. Plants yielding nutritionally rich fruits and vegetables are dependent to a large extent on pollinators.
Since past 50 years production of staple crops like rice, potato, wheat, yam etc has almost doubled. These crops mainly supply energy to our body and they are mostly wind-pollinated, self-pollinated, or vegetatively propagated. However our diet is incomplete without certain vital nutrients like vitamins and minerals and they are supplied by animal or insect pollinated plants.
According to the recent research conducted by Eilers et al. (2011) majority of oil produced from the plant sources comes from the plants which are animal pollinated . Vital nutrients like vitamin A, C and E come from animal pollinated fruits and vegetables. It has been estimated that approximately 70% of vitamin A and 98% of key nutrients like Carotenoids, lycopene and ß-cryptoxanthinare obtained from plants which yield red, orange and yellow vegetables and fruits. These nutrients help us to fight cardiovascular diseases and cancer and are a source of antioxidants to the body. Plants like beans and dark green leafy vegetables are rich in folic acid which is very essential during pregnancy.
Eilers and his team have noticed a direct correlation between the increases in the yield of these plants with the increase in the number of pollinators . Apart from this the supply of certain vital minerals like calcium and fluorine and iron, increases with an increase in pollination of plants like beans, almonds and nuts.
Human intervention has reduced the number of pollinators to a very large extent. Deforestation over a vast area destroys the habitat and depletes the source of food for pollinators. This automatically reduces their number. Monoculture-based agricultural production that is planting similar crop year after year with a support of chemicals in the form of fertilizers and pesticides not only depletes the soil of its natural fertility but also reduces the number of pollinators. Some other factors which affect the pollinator population include, pesticides, insect and animal diseases and parasites.
A large number of nutrient supplements are available in market. But are they affordable to a common man belonging to the developing country? Moreover the synthesis of these supplements involves huge expenditure. Should we go ahead with the rampant use of chemicals to increase the food production or revert back to traditional eco-friendly farming practices? The choice is left to us.
1. Eilers EJ, Kremen C et al. Contribution of pollinator-mediated crops to nutrients in the human food supply. PLoS One. 2011; 6 (6):e21363