World losses of honeybee colonies are increasing, a “reason for concern” for cocoa, coffee and other crops that depend on pollination by insects, Rabobank said.
“A further decline in honeybee numbers could cause a pollination shortage,” analyst Ruben Verwijs said in an e-mailed report. “In a more extreme scenario, farmers might not be able to grow some crops profitably.”
About 90 agricultural products, representing a third of world food output, depend “to some extent” on animal pollination, Verwijs said. Those crops, which include apples and pears as well as cocoa and coffee, tend to be of higher value than wind-pollinated crops such as wheat, rice and corn, according to the report.
The rate at which bee colonies in the U.S. failed to survive winter rose to an average 30 percent to 35 percent in the four crop years through 2010 from a normal loss rate of 10 percent, the analyst said. Colony losses in most of Europe have been above 20 percent in recent years, he said.
“Although problems have been the worst in Europe and the U.S., inexplicable losses are also being witnessed in Asia, South America and the Middle East,” Verwijs said.
The phenomenon is known as colony collapse disorder. It may be linked to bee inbreeding or malnutrition from a lack of variety in the insects’ diets caused by monoculture, according to Verwijs. He also cited pesticide use.
Demand for pollination-dependent crops is expected to rise more quickly than world food output as incomes climb, Verwijs said in the report. He classified dependency on insect pollination as “medium” for cocoa, “high” for apples and “extreme” for almonds in a phone interview today.
“Considering that this is a global issue and that the inherent economic impact of a further decline of bee colonies may be substantial, the tide must be turned,” Verwijs said in the report.
For oranges and grapefruits, pollination helps improve the size and quality of fruit, according to the analyst.
More research is needed into why bee colonies are disappearing, according to Verwijs. He advocated developing breeding programs to preserve genetic diversity and taking bees into account when using pesticides, such as avoiding spraying during daylight hours when the insects are foraging.