A future for bees
Orchards and plantations are a common sight in Tamil Nadu, India, and agriculture is critical to the region’s economy. Around 45% of the 67 million people there make their living from farming. Economically important and nutritious fruit crops include mango and moringa, the "horseradish tree", the seeds and pods of which are eaten as vegetables or used in traditional medicines. But despite the critical part they play, very little is known about the insects which pollinate them. Enhancing pollinators and pollination "services" could improve farmers’ yields and profits, providing an opportunity to raise economic prosperity in the region.
Ecologist Dr Deepa Senapathi and colleagues at Reading have long been involved in science to optimise pollination ‘services’ by bees and other pollinating insects to help European farmers grow bigger and better apple and pear crops. Now the team is working with Indian partners MS Swaminathan Research Foundation and Reddiachatram Seed Growers’ Association to translate these research findings into Indian crop production systems for mango and moringa in Tamil Nadu.
By planting insect-friendly flowers and secondary crops in orchards and plantations, the research team expects to boost the number and variety of wild pollinating insects. The flowers also provide homes for beneficial predatory insects which keep in check crop-destroying pests such as termites or caterpillars. Furthermore, the flowers can be sold (providing farmers with a valuable source of income) fed to cattle as a supplement to their diet, or even used as food for the farmers’ families.
Local farmers in Tamil Nadu, both men and women, will be fully involved in the project’s design and concept, ensuring that it is fit for purpose and therefore more likely to be taken up in the long term. With the help of the project partners, these sustainable farming practices and research-informed knowledge can be taught by one farmer to others at village knowledge centres, workshops and demonstration days.
Starting in July 2020, the research will form the basis of a "road map" for scaling up the project to other crops across India and in other low-income countries.