Reaching another tipping point: insect declines and food production

Lauantai 9.5.2020 klo 18:11 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Three quarters of the plant food we eat requires pollination. Intensive agriculture has been able to increase yields partly with the help of heavy insecticide use.

The two above sentences are in direct contradiction, as pollinators are insects. Harmful insects and beneficial insects are equally killed by insecticides. For a long period of intensive agriculture the negative effects of insecticides on pollinators were not seen, as adequate areas remained outside intensive agriculture to enable effectiveIMG_4119.jpg reproduction. However, it now seems that we have reached a tipping point, where increased intensive agriculture with heavy insecticide use decreases yields. Tipping point means that any further increase in insecticide use results in catastrophic decline of insect populations, whereby pollination  is reduced and consequently agricultural production decreases markedly. This conclusion is based on the observations that insect populations have already decreased in size, and that an increasing proportion of land must be used for agricultural production to feed the ever-increasing human population. Because of this, the insecticide-free refuges for pollinators are disappearing with increasing frequency.

The media discussion at the moment concentrates mainly on neonicotinoids, but actually the type of insecticide does not matter much, because they all have a negative impact on bee and bumblebee populations. In addition to the direct effects of insecticides on bees, it is possible that the recent serious outbreaks of viruses in bee colonies are affected by insecticides reducing the efficiency of insect immune system.

The declines of pollinator populations and consecutive reduction of yields of agricultural products are another symptom of the overuse of the planet, the other notable ones being coronavirus pandemic and climate change. For climate change the reasons are overconsumption in rich countries, inequal distribution of wealth and population growth, for the other two mainly population growth. Because human population has increased beyond sustainability, major efforts should be directed towards population control. It should be done in a way that it is not seen as rich countries again imposing colonial rule. Maybe shifts in wealth distribution could help?


Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: insecticide, agricultural production, population growth