When a flower is pollinated it can produce seeds, and fruits. Pollination is the transfer of pollen from the anthers to the stigma of a flower. Plants rely on wind, water, or animals called pollinators to move pollen between different flowers. In this way, flowers can produce more seeds, and fruits.
Pollination, is an often overlooked ‘ecosystem service’. An ecosystem service is a benefit that is provided for free by healthy environments that is essential to the wellbeing of people. The environment provides us with resources like water, food, fodder, and fuel. Through natural processes in the environment, ecosystem services also provide us with:
• Habitats for people, plants, and animals
• Water storing and cleaning
• Soils to support plant and animal life
• Interactions like pollination
Pollinators provide a vital link with nature by supporting human life and subsistence. In Africa, pollinators are primarily insects that travel between farms and natural habitats, and they are extremely vulnerable to habitat loss and destruction.
Small species-rich habitats, such as forest patches, hedgerows, strips of wildflowers and grasses, and fallow land need to be conserved to save pollinators.
The future of so many of these habitats relies upon rural farmers who need to be engaged as partners in conservation. The beauty of pollination is that it draws a strong and clear link between livelihoods, sustainability, and the protection of the environment. Working with farmers to foster an understanding of pollinators, and their habitats, directly contributes to improving food security, and alleviating poverty through increased yields.
Once we recognize that something as fundamental as food production is tied to biodiversity, we can begin to tap into the great potential there is to improve human health and nutrition through conservation of the environment. For example, the recent global die-offs of honeybees, have shown the dangers of relying on just one species when there is a staggering diversity of bees.
The decline of biodiversity is accelerating at a grim pace, just as we are beginning to learn about the intricate connections between nature, human life, and livelihoods. We stand to lose the very species, and interactions that underpin our subsistence, and the life support systems of our planet.
Blessed with some of the most diverse habitats on the planet, conservation in East Africa is up against the huge challenge of producing food for a growing population. We need to do this without sacrificing nature and ecological processes.
The threats to pollinators however, don’t just come from habitat destruction. The growing misuse of pesticides, for example, is a very real threat. In this case, there is hope that we can actually get it right here in Africa. We can prevent misuse by disseminating information about how chemicals affect wild insects, and what can be done to limit exposure. By carefully managing the use of pesticides, we protect not just pollinators, but soils, streams, and human communities too.
In many parts of Kenya you can easily find over 100 species of bees in a given landscape. Bees, and other pollinators, are beautiful and fascinating—worth studying in their own right, and offering us much pleasure.
Spend time outdoors watching bees, and other pollinators. Indeed, the main goal of this book is to inspire people across East Africa to get more engaged—watching, studying, appreciating, and conserving pollinators—on farms, gardens, villages, and in protected areas.