Pollination, Pollinators and Food Production
African agriculture is in a state of rapid change, with the need to provide food security for a growing population against pressures such as climate change while seeking to protect biodiversity. Much of the continent’s agriculture continues to rely on smallholdings byindividuals, families, or small villages, where traditional methods of crop management include making full use of the natural pollinators and pest control functions of the surrounding natural ecosystems. However, increasing areas (particularly those involving substantial purchases of land by countries outside Africa) are applying intensive agriculture typical of Europe and the Americas, which is dependent on high inputs of fertilisers and chemicals, strongly encouraged by agrochemical companies. While Africa needs eco-friendly means to increase its productivity and to ensure its food security, experience in Europe and America has demonstrated that some agrochemicals – in particular the systemic insecticides typified by neonicotinoids – have serious negative effects on ecosystem services such as pollination and natural pest control, which has led to their restriction in several countries.
Taking advantage of the knowledge and experience outside Africa to try to avoid repeating those negative impacts on Africa’s rich and diverse ecosystems appears to be urgent in view of the rapid growth of intensive agriculture here. It was with that objective in mind that the InterAcademy Partnership (IAP) has collaborated with the Network of African Science Academies (NASAC) to draw on work on systemic insecticides already completed in Europe by the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council (EASAC). This project to assess the implications of systemic insecticides on African agriculture looks at whether the negative effects (particularly on bees but also on other pollinators and natural pest control species) can be expected to occur when applied in African agriculture, and how best to avoid such effects.
With the kind financial support of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), we were able to use the work by EASAC on neonicotinoids and their effects on agriculture and ecosystem services as the starting point for this project. With the support of the Academy of Science of South Africa, ASSAf, a first workshop was held in Pretoria in November 2018 bringing together European experts and experts from 12 African countries. Following this successful meeting, an exhaustive review of the published literature related to neonicotinoid use in Africa was done, followed by a second workshop in Nairobi in May 2019.
The latter included additional African experts nominated by their academies of science, thus covering the expertise of all African regions. This workshop discussed evidence on the use and effects of neonicotinoids, issues of regulation, enforcement, extension services, information provision and research priorities and compiled the ‘Key messages’ for policymakers which can be found in this report. From the perspective of the African Science Academies, this project has shown the value of harnessing scientific knowledge to the key social and environmental objective of developing a sustainable agriculture on which future food security depends. We recognise that a synergistic relationship between agriculture and the beneficial services offered by nature (such as pollination and natural pest control) is a foundation of sustainable agriculture, and is under threat by the increased use of non-selective and systemic insecticides typified by the neonicotinoid class. It is not too late to learn from the negative experiences elsewhere and apply this to Africa to develop a more sustainable agriculture that fully exploits the benefits from the surrounding natural ecosystems rather than damaging them. But the time remaining is short given the rapid growth anticipated in the reliance on chemical pest control in African agriculture. NASAC thus encourages policymakers to consider very carefully the conclusions and recommendations in this report.
This review has shown that while Africa has some world-class scientific resources, those that may be relevant to this study’s subject are distributed throughout the continent, bringing with it challenges to effective coordination at national, linguistic, cultural and geographical levels. Science continues to offer solutions to agricultural development and innovation; making full use of this potential, and strengthening synergy between available resources, are thus very important, along with collaboration on common research priorities. A critical role for Science Academies, wherever they are, is to apply scientific knowledge to society’s benefit; NASAC will play its role in supporting Africa’s Academies to realise this potential and to strengthen synergies between the available resources.
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