A dramatic decline in the number of pollinators such as bees and butterflies could lead to shortages in supplies of raw materials for many companies, a study has found.
The report by the Cambridge Conservation Initiative said that around three quarters of food crops depend on pollination, which made pollinators worth up to US$577bn annually.
Half of this pollination comes from wild pollinators. However, pollinator populations are declining rapidly, with more than a third of wild bee and butterfly species facing local extinction.
The report, which was also authored by UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL), Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and the University of East Anglia (UEA), found businesses lacked information about potential risks to their supply chains.
Eight blue chip companies including Asda, The Body Shop, Mars and PepsiCo, were surveyed.
Many said they were unable to take action because of uncertainty around which crops and sourcing regions were vulnerable to pollinator decline.
“Less than half the companies sampled know which of the raw materials they source depend on pollinators,” said Gemma Cranston, director, natural capital at CISL.
“Their supply chains could be at risk and need additional research to identify where opportunities exist to reverse current trends.”
Jos van Oostrum, director sustainable solutions at Mars Incorporated, said: “The role pollinators play – be it tiny midges for cocoa or squirrels for coconut – is not well understood and can be taken for granted.
“It is of critical importance we understand their lifecycles and the habitat and conditions which enable them to thrive. This does not only help safeguard productivity of the crops we depend on, but it could also help establish ways to boost their yield potential.”
The report said that one of the key solutions for more sustainable supply chains is certification schemes.
Researchers believe a review of nine such programmes showed some action is being taken, particularly to encourage reduced pesticide use and promote habitat restoration, but more could be done.
“Certification schemes play an important role in driving corporate best practice. Effective integration of the needs of wild pollinators into such schemes will help companies to move faster on this issue,” said Laura Fox, senior programme manager at FFI.
Researchers assessed the vulnerability of the top 15 pollinator-dependent food crops. Preliminary findings indicated that these crops are vulnerable to pollinator decline, with cocoa being particularly at risk.
“Pollinator decline is a serious issue for crops where wild pollinators are important to production and can’t easily be replaced, because managed bees can’t do the job, or the need for them isn’t widely recognised,” said Dr Lynn Dicks, Research Fellow at UEA.
“Our analysis is revealing a concerning lack of knowledge about the status of agricultural pollination and its replaceability in large parts of the world, despite its clear importance to production of some highly valued ingredients.”
The organisations involved in the project aim to collaborate with industry, certification bodies, trade associations, governments and pollination experts to create a leadership group of companies and standard setting bodies committed to safeguarding pollinators.
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