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Pollinators are integral to the maintenance of healthy ecosystems, strong food systems and thriving human livelihoods. In fact, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, more than 80 per cent of all flowering plant species and 35 per cent of the world’s crop production rely on pollinators such as bees, birds and bats. Pollinators play a crucial role in maintaining healthy environments and help produce one third of the food we eat – including apples, peaches, tomatoes, peppers, coffee and chocolate – but they are severely threatened by development, pesticide use and climate change. The challenges faced by pollinators are complicated, but there’s a lot we can do to help protect these hard-working insects and animals, starting at home.

Pollinators provide essential natural services that support the reproduction of wildflowers and the success of human agriculture. Pollinators, particularly bees, bring significant value to agriculture by increasing crop yields and producing larger, more symmetrical fruit. This value has not been lost on farmers as many have turned to beekeepers, who bring their bees to pollinate the area. According to the David Suzuki Foundation, the value of bee pollinators for crops in Canada is conservatively estimated to be $1.2 billion per year, while the global value of pollinators for food production ranges from $112 to $200 billion annually.

Unfortunately, stocks of the domesticated honeybee are declining due to factors including habitat loss and fragmentation, pesticide use, viruses and parasitic mites and climate change. This decline in honeybees means that farmers are becoming more dependent on wild pollinators, which are also being negatively affected by human activity.

Fortunately, human activity in the form of environmental action and protection can also go a long way in supporting pollinators. In fact, the role that pollinators play in food security and nutrition has been recognized at the international level by the Fifth Conference of Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity which has prioritized pollinators and established the International Initiative for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Pollinators. This initiative is designed to “monitor pollinator decline and its impact on pollinator services, address the lack of taxonomic information on pollinators, assess the economic value of pollination and the economic impact of the decline of pollination services and promote the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of pollinator diversity in agriculture and related ecosystems.”

Regionally, organic farming practices are also helping pollinators since practices such as crop-rotation promote biodiversity and extend the pollination season, unlike monoculture farming practices. Organic farming methods also limit the use of pesticides that negatively affect bee longevity, memory, navigation and foraging abilities.

Protecting pollinators shouldn’t just be left to policy makers and farmers – we all can do something to enhance biodiversity and support our flying friends. Spring is an opportune time to create a garden with pollinator-friendly plants at home or in your community. Your garden will provide pollinators with a place to rest and live. Not only will this help increase your own garden’s yield, it will also help increase the production of any nearby farms since areas of wild vegetation, including Greenbelts, increase biodiversity and help pollinators to thrive.

If you are not sure what to plant, the Xerces Society for Invertabrete Conservation has a very helpful and interactive regional map that provides information, plant lists and habitat conservation guides.The David Suzuki Foundation has also created wonderful educational resources about pollinators to help you identify the pollinators that may visit your garden.

Appreciating pollinators by limiting the use of pesticides and planting pollinator-friendly gardens will not only enhance the natural beauty of the environment, it will also help ensure our food security.

Sharing her adventures and reflections in the food movement, Jo Anne explores complex food issues from a youth perspective, including the need for an innovative, integrated, empowerment-focused approach to food security and the connections between social justice, environmental issues and food production.

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