We Depend on Pollinators for Food—So Why Aren’t We Doing More to Save Them?

Last Update: September 7, 2021

“No Farms, No Food,” the popular green bumper sticker declares. True as that may be, there should also be one that says, “No Pollinators, No Farms (and No Food).”

For National Pollinator Week, advocates have planned a number of special events and awareness campaigns to get people talking about a tiny but crucial component of our food system—pollinators.

But what are they? Pollinators are flying creatures like bees, butterflies, birds, or even the wind that move pollen within or between flowers. To take you back to second-grade science class, pollination between flowers of the same species leads to fertilization, which results in seed and fruit production for plants.

According to Pollinator Partnership, globally, roughly 1,000 plants grown for food, beverages, fibers, spices, and medicines need to be pollinated by animals in order to produce the goods on which we depend – foods like apples, blueberries, chocolate, coffee, melons, peaches, potatoes, pumpkins, vanilla, almonds, and tequila. In the United States alone, products pollinated by bees and other insects are worth $40 billion annually.

The Problem: Declining Numbers of Pollinators

Pollinators are in trouble—as is our food supply if we don’t build their population back up. Most notably, the United States honeybee population has suffered enormous losses—as high as 50 percent—in the last decade due to colony collapse disorder. For a handful of crops, such as blueberries and cranberries, honeybees account for about 90 percent of pollination. In total, the American Beekeeping Federation estimates that honeybees contribute nearly $15 billion to American crop production value.

Monarch butterflies are equally imperiled. In the past two decades, 90 percent of the monarchs have disappeared, their decline attributed widely (along with bees) to the destruction of their preferred milkweed plants by pesticides and herbicides used in agriculture.

Invasive species, parasites and diseases account for the loss of other prominent pollinators, further threatening our ecosystem and food supply.

What You Can Do to Help Pollinator Species

Consumers can do plenty to show our support for the tiny creatures that keep our plants growing and multiplying. For one, we can plant gardens and houses to attract and protect pollinators. Build a house for bats or native bees; install salt or mineral licks for butterflies; and even consider replacing your lawn with a flower bed. Pollinator Partnership has published region-specific guides for installing habitats that attract and protect pollinators.

Chances are there’s a Pollinator Awareness Week event happening within a short drive of where you live. Get out this weekend, enjoy the beauty of nature, and connect with others around this issue. You’ll be glad you did.

Advocacy to state and federal elected officials and departments is another way to help. For instance, there’s a campaign to get monarchs placed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the Endangered Species list and a bill in the House of Representatives that would reduce mowing and create habitats along U.S. highways–adding a layer of protection for beautiful and useful pollinators. The White House even created a Pollinator Health Task Force to look into environmental solutions to the pollinator problem.

Finally, we can do a lot for pollinators with our buying dollar as well. Because chemical use is widely considered to be a leading cause of pollinator decline, we can make sure we’re buying items (food and otherwise) that are produced organically. (Thrive Market is, of course, an ideal place to support pollinators with your purchases.)

Remember, “No Pollinators, No Food.” So do what you can to help the species that feed us all!

Photo credit: Ron Adams via Flickr

This article is related to:

Bees, Eco-Friendly, Environment

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Steve Holt

Steve Holt's stories about food, nutrition and food politics are found at Civil Eats,, Boston Magazine, and elsewhere. He's been featured in the Best Food Writing anthology. Follow his tweets and Instagrams @thebostonwriter.

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