Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Bugs, Hunger and Food (Part 3): A Useful Role in the Food Production Process

A couple of days ago, we posted about a report from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) that looked at the role of insects in the food chain, including as a source of protein.  That was Part 1 of our series about the topic. In Part 2, we posted a video of  BBC TV host Stefan Gates at the stall that sells insects at the market in Bangkok.  

But insects are more than just food.  They play an important role in plant growth and in the food-production process.  Here is what the FAO report said about this topic:

Apatelodes Caterpillar via Wikimedia Commons (author Arbuck)
Insects deliver a host of ecological services fundamental to the survival of humankind. For instance, insects play an important role in plant reproduction . An estimated 100 000 pollinator species have been identified and almost all of these (98 percent) are insects (Ingram, Nabhan and Buchmann, 1996). Over 90 percent of the 250 000 flowering plant species depend on pollinators. This is also true for three-quarters of the 100 crop species that generate most of the world’s food (Ingram, Nabhan and Buchmann, 1996). Domesticated bees alone pollinate an estimated 15 percent of these species. The importance of this ecological service for agriculture and nature more generally is undisputed.

Insects play an equally vital role in waste biodegradation . Beetle larvae, flies, ants and termites clean up dead plant matter, breaking down organic matter until it is fit to be consumed by fungi and bacteria. In this way, the minerals and nutrients of dead organisms become readily available in the soil for uptake by plants. Animal carcasses, for example, are consumed by fly maggots and beetle larvae. Dung beetles – of which there are about 4 000 known species – also play a significant role in decomposing manure. They can colonize a dung heap within 24 hours, preventing flies from developing on them. If the dung remains on the soil surface, about 80 percent of the nitrogen is lost to the atmosphere; the presence of dung beetles, however, means carbon and minerals are recycled back to the soil, where they further decompose as humus for plant

A View From Squash Blossom Farms in Taos
In his blog .Around the World in Eighty Years,
New Mexico writer and photographer Jim O'Donnell wrote about his conversations with Ty and Gael Minton, owners of Squash Blossom Farms in Taos, New Mexico, about the role of insects in the pollination of plants.

Here are a few paragraphs from the piece entitled, "Community Supported Agriculture – Taos’ Squash Blossom Farms"

Near the greenhouse, Ty Minton found a big, fat fuzzy caterpillar and he wasn’t sure what, exactly, it was.

“I was so excited,” he said. “I ran inside, grabbed the iPad and raced back out here before it was gone. I spent quite awhile poring over pictures online, trying to match it up with the thing that was there in front of me.”

That’s a man truly in touch with the power of the pollinator.

“I couldn’t figure it out,” he said. “It had to be a friend though.”

That fact is that nearly 90 percent of all plant species need the help of animals to act as pollinators. About 75 percent of the crops grown world-wide for human consumption likewise depend on plant pollinators to propagate.

According to O'Donnell,  about one-fourth of the food we put in our mouth would not exist without pollinators. "The contribution pollinators make to our food resources and the economy is massive. It has been calculated that insect-pollinated foods were worth about $40 billion to the American economy in the year 2000," he said. 

This is a great article.  And here is the link to the full piece in his blog.  Or you can read the same article in The Taos News.

No comments: