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"Insects are essential to agriculture by their role as pollinators"

According to researcher Bernard Vaissière, a decline in insects would disrupt most of the world's crops.

Interviewed by Clémentine Thiberge Posted today at 10h58, updated at 10h58

Time to Reading 2 min.

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A dragonfly on the Israeli coast, October 22, 2018.
A dragonfly on the Israeli coast, October 22, 2018. JACK GUEZ / AFP

According to the Dr Bernard Vaissière, researcher and head of the entomophilous pollination laboratory at INRA, agriculture largely dependent on pollinating insects, the disappearance of the latter would have devastating consequences for world food.

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What is the role of insects in agriculture?

Insects are essential to agriculture by their role as pollinators, which involves transporting the pollen necessary for fertilization from one plant to another. This pollination service is important in four main areas: fruit growing, oilseed and protein crops, market gardening and seed production. This last area is often overlooked, but it is the most important. Many vegetables, such as carrots, onions, leeks or cabbages, do not need pollinators to grow, however the role of insects is essential to produce the seeds that will allow their reproduction. In total, 84% of species grown in Europe to feed depend on pollinating insects. These are therefore essential to the diversity of our diet.

What consequences would there be for a sharp decrease or even disappearance of pollinators?

The total economic value of insect pollination is now estimated at 178 billion euros, which represents 9.5% of the value of world agricultural production. If the insects were to disappear, the consequences on production would be drastic. Productions would fall and the prices of some products would increase considerably. The quality of the food crops would also be affected, as the quality of the pollination has a direct effect on the quality of the products. Going from flower to flower, bees often carry pollen from individuals of the same species, but genetically different, which contributes to natural hybridizations. When an apple blossom is poorly pollinated, it affects the size, shape, preservation and sugar content of the fruit. Seeds of poorly pollinated oil crops have a lower oil content.

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Are there "good" and "bad" insects?

There are indeed insect pests that cause problems to farmers by attacking crops (aphids, caterpillars) and others that, by regulating their populations, are very useful. Pests develop more significantly with global warming, such as the diabolical bug, for example, a new invasive species from Asia. These pests often develop because other insects are in decline. When the species that regulate pest populations disappear, the ecological balance is broken.

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