A new report on pollinators and the impact of their declining populations on global food production will be released later this week in Kuala Lumpur, as the world’s leading scientists and government officials gather here for a meeting on biodiversity.

The report, two years in the works, is the first-ever global assessment on pollinators and pollination, and will improve understanding on the threats facing pollinators and provide options to ensure their survival.

The report is the first outcome of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), an independent body set up in 2012 under the auspices of the United Nations to assess the state of the planet’s biodiversity, its ecosystems and the essential services they provide to society.

The week-long KL gathering which starts today, is the fourth plenary of the IPBES. Over 500 delegates from 141 countries will be attending. They include scientists as well as representatives from governments, United Nations agencies and various non- and inter-governmental organisations.

IPBES currently has 125 member countries and is the biodiversity equivalent of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); both provide scientific support for policy-making in their respective areas of biodiversity and the climate.

“Biodiversity is the basis for healthy ecosystems that underpin human well-being,” says IPBES chairman Tan Sri Dr Zakri Abdul Hamid. “However, biodiversity and the ecosystem services it provides are declining at an unprecedented rate. In order to address this challenge, adequate local, national and international policies need to be adopted and implemented based on sound scientific rationales.

“IPBES assessments provide policy-makers with scientifically credible and independent information with which to make informed decisions about how to protect biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Dr Zakri played a pivotal role in the formation of the intergovernmental platform on biodiversity, having been involved in the initial meetings since 2008. Filepic

“The assessments also put forth methods to interpret the findings and reflect the complex relationships between biodiversity, ecosystem services, and people. Although IPBES assessments lay out various policy options, they do not make policy recommendations.”

Like the IPCC, the IPBES draws on experts globally to supply the best-available science to governments. Its assessments are conducted by about 1,000 experts who bring together and evaluate all the biodiversity-related information that has been generated worldwide by governments, academia, scientific organisations, non-governmental organisations as well as indigenous and local communities.

The focus of this week’s meeting is to endorse the Thematic Assessment Of Pollinators, Pollination And Food Production. The report, prepared by a team of 77 experts, has major implications for global food supply, the agriculture industry and the world economy. Pollinators such as bees, birds and bats affect 35% of the world’s crop production.

“Crops such as oil palm, coffee, cocoa, mangoes, kiwifruit, apples, cherries, pears, watermelons, cantaloupes, squash, zucchinis, avocados, cashews and almonds depend on animal pollinators for a good harvest,” says Zakri who is science advisor to the Prime Minister.

“All these highly beneficial and flavourful food crops have a common denominator. They arrive in our stores thanks to the tireless efforts of pollinators, some 20,000 species of bees, butterflies, moths, wasps, beetles, birds, bats and others. Nature exploits their flying and crawling abilities to transport pollen from place to place within ecosystems and fertilise many types of flora.

“Over the years, unfortunately, scientists have grown increasingly concerned about trouble brewing for populations of these small but enormously helpful species, caused by a range of pressures almost all related to human activities.

“These include changes in land-use, industrialised farming and an intensifying use of pesticides, pollution, pathogens and climate change.”

The decline in population of pollinators spells trouble for fruit crops. The issue has been assessed by the worlds scientists in the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Photo: Reuters

The decline in population of pollinators spells trouble for fruit crops. The issue has been assessed by the world’s scientists in the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Photo: Reuters

The IPBES assessment examines a range of questions related to pollinators, including:

> What role do pollinators play in food production?

> How economically valuable are pollination services?

> Are wild or managed pollinators in decline regionally or globally and if so, what are the implications for food, health and nutritional security?

> What would be the economic and social implications of a decline in pollinators?

> If pollinators are in decline, what are the causes?

> What are the options to protect pollinators and restore pollination services?

Zakri says Malaysians owe a particular debt to a small weevil, originally from Cameroon, which very effectively pollinates the oil palm that forms a large cornerstone of our national economy.

“Introduced as a pollinator in 1981, the weevil took over a laborious task that plantation workers had been doing by hand, enabling more effective use of our human capital, a dramatic increase in palm oil production, and a quick reduction of the industry’s annual costs by more than US$100mil, a figure that has more than quadrupled since.

“And don’t forget the durian. It depends on bats for pollination. Dwindling bat population translates into disappointing Musang King fruits.”

Participants of the plenary will also decide on future assessments in the areas of invasive alien species, sustainable use of biodiversity and calculating the values of biodiversity and ecosystem services. The next IPBES assessment, on biodiversity and ecosystem services, will be released in 2019.