Talking Point

The bee and the stockmarket


For several years there has been a constant flow of research on the topic of pollinator decline and the economic and food security impacts that this could have. This report aims to distil the current research and to determine if this is a material issue for companies with exposure to agricultural produce within their supply chain.

The majority of research into the issue has focused on the demise of the most active pollinator species, apis mellifera or the European honey bee (though there are another 25,000 to 30,000 bee species and around 150,000 different pollinator species in total). Research has focused on the European honey bee as it is one of the most common commercial bees; the research has also predominantly been conducted in North America and Europe (where the majority of specialists are located). This research shows that honey bee numbers in these regions are in decline. At the global scale the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that around three quarters of all pollinators are in decline and that their numbers have reduced by about one third in the past decade. There are several reasons for this which include habitat decline, pesticide use and the spread of disease vectors.

The importance of pollinators to agricultural crops varies. Some crops can produce seeds through wind or self pollination, others see yields improve (both by quantity and quality) as a result of pollination but are not entirely dependant on it, whilst others may depend almost entirely on animal pollination in order to produce fruits and seeds. In all, around 70% of agricultural crops (by crop species) depend to some degree on pollination, although if looked at by mass then 60% of global agricultural yield is not affected by animal pollination (this refers to crops such as wheat, maize and rice). In total, it is estimated that, should animal pollinators disappear, then this would only decrease global agricultural production by 4-6% by mass. This doesn’t, however, measure the nutritional or economic value that could be lost as pollinator-dependant crops are an important source of proteins, vitamins and minerals in our diet and also tend to have a higher economic value than non pollinator-dependant crops.

By determining the yield dependency on animal pollination economists have been able to determine that pollinators contribute around £130 billion to the global economy (a service that is predominantly provided for free) but that should this service be lost then the consequential impacts on food prices would mean a consumer surplus loss of between £160 to £260 billion in addition to the £130 billion of pollination service that would be lost. The degree of economic importance depends on the subject in question: pollinator dependence at a national or farm level is much more significant than within the global economy. Farmers clearly put a value on pollination by employing the services of commercial bee keepers, but there is also strong evidence to suggest that payment for commercial pollination services could be better employed by investing in the conservation and establishment of wild habitat for pollinators near crops with pollinator dependence.

At the corporate level this is clearly an issue that is likely to affect cash flow because of the impacts on raw material prices and is therefore a topic that should be addressed by companies that have exposure to agricultural produce or pollinator habitat. However, our research suggests that there is limited focus on this specific issue by the companies we assessed, though there is a broader, and growing, recognition of the economic value of maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services within the supply chain.

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