By Maitrayee Basu

Our food chain is complex and we are all related to the food that we eat. If the core of our food chain is hollow, our food security will drastically decline in the future. What is an alternative way to sustain ourselves?

Many are calling it the sixth mass extinction which, instead of meteorites or volcanic eruptions, humanity’s actions are driving these forces of destruction. Anthropogenic activities are the primary reason that major flora and fauna numbers have dropped across the globe. In this Anthropocene age, where carbon dioxide emissions and sea level are rising, deforestation plagues nature, and industrial activity has increased with technology, global mass extinction of species is barrelling onward.

The insect population at the base of the chain are feeling the brunt of these forces. They have an important ecological role in the functioning of all ecosystems. Their roles include: food for other species, production of pollen and recycling of key nutrients. But, more than 40% of insect species are declining.  Professor Dave Goulson’s research on the declining of insects indicates that it is due to the widespread use of neonicotinoid pesticides, “for insects are at the heart of every food web[…]. Love them or loathe them, we humans cannot survive without insects.” 


A spiders web defines the complexity of the food chain

As insects perish, a crippling surge up through the food system will wipe out higher animals who are part of a wider, healthier ecosystem, among which are bees and butterflies. The biggest factors driving the decline in species as the base of our food chain appear to be intensive agriculture and urbanization, as well as pollution by synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. In the tropics, it is a warmer climate that exacerbates the problem. The Luquillo forest in Puerto Rico witnessed an 80% decline in birds and a 98% decline in ground insect species. In countries like Germany and France, butterflies are becoming less prevalent. In other countries, reptiles and birds are disappearing in most rainforests and across other rainforests because insects are unable to survive the change in the climate. Moreover, unless we change the way we produce our food and halt the decline of insects, soon our own species will be threatened.

However, the good news is, we can mitigate these effects in a number of ways. I’m sure many of us have considered switching to organic food and we should rightfully do so. Organic farms have more insects and their occasional use of pesticide in the past has not caused any catastrophic levels of decline, unlike intensive agriculture.

Rainforest Partnership has taken the initiative to increase the butterfly and bee population with the indigenous community of San Antonio in the Peruvian cloud forest. The San Antonio community has started and apiculture (beekeeping) project with no pesticides involved and progressing organically, 10 families have been involved in this project. They have also bred 15 endemic and local butterfly species, constructing a breeding area for butterflies and increasing their population in the rainforest. Yet even with these efforts, insects are still in decline in other parts of the country. Do your part, spread awareness about insect population decline as well as be conscious and informed about the foods you consume. Let’s promote organic food and say no to pesticides. Let’s save the INSECTS!

Releasing butterflies in San Antonio community, Peru cloud forest.

References:

  1. Sánchez-Bayo, Francisco, and Kris A.G. Wyckhuys. “Worldwide Decline of the Entomofauna: A Review of Its Drivers.” Science Direct, Biological Conservation, 20 Jan. 2019, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006320718313636.
  2. Carrington, Damian. “Why Are Insects in Decline, and Can We Do Anything about It?” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 10 Feb. 2019, www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/10/why-are-insects-in-decline-and-can-we-do-anything-about-it.
  3. Carrington, Damian. “Plummeting Insect Numbers ‘Threaten Collapse of Nature’.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 10 Feb. 2019, www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/10/plummeting-insect-numbers-threaten-collapse-of-nature.
  4. Carrington, Damian. “The Anthropocene Epoch: Scientists Declare Dawn of Human-Influenced Age.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 29 Aug. 2016, www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/aug/29/declare-anthropocene-epoch-experts-urge-geological-congress-human-impact-earth.