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Floral interventions on farms boost pollinators and crop yields

In an era where sustainable agriculture and biodiversity are critical, a new study from India has demonstrated the power of integrating flowers into farming practices.

The study shows that floral interventions can enhance bee populations and biodiversity while boosting crop yields and benefiting the environment. 

The research was conducted in South India by a team from the University of Reading and the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation.

Focus of the study

The study was focused on the Moringa crop, which is known for its high nutritional value. Moringa is mainly cultivated in South India.

The researchers noted that Moringa plays a major role in the rural economy. “The moringa global market was worth USD 5.5 billion in 2018 and projected to increase to USD 10 billion by 2025.”

Background of the research 

“Pollination is one of the most important ecosystem services provided by nature, which is crucial for global food security and human nutritional health,” wrote the study authors.

“About 75% of the food crops around the globe benefit from pollination by animal pollinators; this figure increases in the tropics, where ~94% of tropical crops benefit from animal pollinators.” 

“Despite the advances in agricultural technology, the increasing pressure on farming to meet human food and energy needs over the last century has resulted in a rise of intensive but environmentally detrimental farming.”

Floral interventions 

The researchers set out to investigate the effectiveness of floral interventions in boosting pollination across 24 moringa orchards.

“We hypothesise that moringa fields with floral interventions have a greater abundance and diversity of flower visitors on crop compared with the moringa fields without such floral interventions,” wrote the study authors.

Insect pollinators 

Working with farmers, they planted marigold flowers and red gram crops alongside Moringa trees. This strategy led to a significant increase in the abundance and diversity of flower-visiting insects, particularly bees.

“Planting wildflowers on agricultural land is a tried and tested method seen in many arable fields and orchards in the UK and across Europe. This farming technique is known to boost insect pollinator numbers,” said Dr. Deepa Senapathi from the University of Reading.

“We worked with farmers in South India to design the best co-flowering crops and boost the numbers of native bees and other insect pollinators visiting the moringa orchards.”

Remarkable results

The researchers found that orchards with co-flowering crops experienced a 50% increase in flower visitor numbers and a 33% boost in diversity compared to those without these crops. This led to larger Moringa pods and a 30% increase in harvestable fruits.

“Greater yields and higher quality fruit will translate to a healthier and better food supply for smallholder communities,” said Dr. Senapathi.

“The farming communities can also use the red gram as a protein source in their diets and receive extra income from selling the marigold flowers.” 

Study implications 

India, with its vast array of economically and nutritionally valuable crops like mango and moringa, stands to benefit immensely from improved pollination services. However, intensive farming and habitat loss have severely impacted biodiversity, including native pollinators.

Smallholder farmers, who rely on native pollinators, are often the most affected by these ecological challenges. The research demonstrates how they can enhance yields while adopting more sustainable land management practices.

The study is part of the TROPICAL project, funded by the UKRI’s Global Challenges Research Fund. This project aims to apply UK-based research to tropical regions where crops depend heavily on pollinators.

The study is published in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

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