Insects: how farmers can be better engaged in species conservation
While farmers have the capacity to drive species conservation worldwide, their true potential is yet to be fully realised. An international team of researchers led by the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) shows how this can change in a new study published in the scientific journal "Global Ecology and Conservation". The researchers interviewed 560 farmers around the world to find out what they know about their local pollinator diversity and their engagement in the issue. The results offer important insights for politics and science.
Almost 40 % of all land around the world is used for agriculture. "This gives farmers a great deal of responsibility. The way in which they manage their land has a major impact on the environment and local biodiversity", says Julia Osterman, the MLU biologist who led the recent study. However, too little was previously known about farmers’ knowledge and attitudes towards the topic.
The team interviewed 560 farmers from eleven countries in Europe, Central America, Asia and Oceania to find out what they know - and how they feel - about insects and pollinators, how they are committed to species conservation and what support they would like to receive to aid conservation. "Honey bees and wild bees were by far the most important pollinators in our survey. Many farmers keep those insects themselves, in particular honey bees, to make sure their crops are pollinated", explains Osterman. However, other insects that have often been overlooked even in academic research, such as flies, were also named as important pollinators. The local conditions played a key role in determining whether the farmers found an insect important. For example, avocado farmers in Australia rated flies as very important, while they were of no importance at all in other countries." This is mainly due to differences in the dominant insects among regions", says Osterman. In fact, the farmers’ observations generally matched the official data on the abundance of insect pollinator groups.
"Farmers are extremely knowledgeable about pollinators - and their knowledge shouldn’t be undervalued when it comes to planning species conservation measures", explains Osterman. Around a quarter of the respondents stated that they had planted flower strips or hedges for insects. "These initiatives have mainly been carried out in countries that have state subsidies for them", says Osterman. But even in countries without state funding, the farmers have tried to do something to protect insects. Osterman sees room for improvement to truly realise this potential: "There should be more flexible funding options that are tailored to local conditions and that can be easily implemented".
According to the survey, farmers are willing to get more involved in species conservation. "Many of the respondents also said that they would like to interact more with scientists in this field. We need new formats to facilitate cooperation and interaction between research and practice", concludes Osterman.
The study was supported by the ESCALATE graduate school and by SUPER-B, an action of the European Cooperation in Science and Technology COST.
Institute of Biology at MLU
Study: Osterman J. et al. On-farm experiences shape farmer knowledge, perceptions of pollinators, and management practices. Global Ecology and Conservation (2021). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gecco.2021.e01949