Male red mason bee on a strawberry flower. Photo by Tom Breeze.

By Tom Breeze, James Murphy, Bryony Wilcox, Sarola Kavanagh, and Jane Stout.

Check out the infographic summary here and read the full article here.

Pollination by bees and other insects is crucially important to 75% of global crops. As the food system has become increasingly globalized, many crops are traded across continents and between lower and higher income countries. As such, the food systems of many large, developed nations depend in part on the pollination services of insects in poorer countries in the global south. However, pollinators are under threat from a range of human factors, including changing land use, chemical insecticides and climate change. A loss of pollinators, even if it was confined to only a few countries, poses a tremendous global risk.

In this study we use a simple economic model to identify which countries would be most heavily affected by losses of pollination services in their trading partners. We explore these losses in three case studies of 25 countries: 1) heavily indebted poor countries, who’s weak financial state makes them less able to adapt to pollinator losses or move away from harmful practices, 2) countries at risk of natural disasters and 3) countries with the highest chemical pesticide use. In each case, we look at the impacts of pollinator losses on the amount of crop lost and the increase in global crop prices that this loss would cause.

Our results show that in all three case studies, it is large, well-developed countries (particularly the UK, Germany and Japan), that suffer the greatest economic losses, even if they are not affected by pollinator loss directly. Lower-income countries, which rely on local foods, are less heavily affected as the higher prices partially compensate for the volume of lost production.

Our findings demonstrate that food systems in high-income countries benefit tremendously from the stability of pollination services in lower-income countries. Yet, most national pollinator strategies focus on maintaining local pollinator populations alone. In reality, investment in international conservation is vital to securing these benefits in the long-term. However, we still need to know a lot more about the way crop markets are structured and how price changes spread through the food system to estimate risks these risks accurately.