After Flagging the Decline of Bees, TN Scientist Finds Success in Hand Pollination
Honey bees collect the nectar of flowers and store it in wax combs as a food source to feed immature larvae and adults during winter. Apis Cerana Indica or Indian hive bee, Apis mellifera or European bee, and Melipona Iridipennis or stingless bee are the species found in India that can be domesticated in boxes. Apis Dorsata or rock bee and Apis Florea or little bee are wild species. Bumblebees and carpenter bees are also found in India.
Globally, 75% of food crops depend, to some extent, on animal pollinators, primarily insects. Beekeeping facilitates pollination and increases crop yield but wild pollinators also play a significant role in pollination.
But the abundance and diversity of wild pollinators across the world are falling due to human activities such as intensive agriculture, pesticide use, and climate change. Bees are facing the consequences of urbanization too.
Ominous reports of bee colonies collapsing seemingly without reason have been reported around the world at least since 2006. Reports of species extinctions have become increasingly common in the last few decades, but the case of bees has particularly alarming implications for human existence.
The brunt of this slow extinction was felt by a group of farmers in Tenkasi, Tamilnadu.
Hand pollination for profit
When the supply of sunflower oil dropped across the country, a group of farmers in Tenkasi decided to step in. After growing sunflowers for several years, the farmers decided to increase the production speed to meet the demand in the market.
However, the flowers were growing slowly.
They noticed that the number of bees buzzing around their fields has decreased. Being natural pollinators, farmers depend on the existence of bees for pollination and flower development.
Scientists have flagged the decline in bee populations across the world for some years, citing pesticide use and climate change as causes. Other reasons for their decline could be intensive farming practices, mono-cropping, and rising temperatures associated with climate change. This affects not only crop yields but also nutrition.
However, this group of farmers in Tenkasi ‘bee-at’ the odds and managed to grow their crops in abundance. How? By manual (hand) pollination. They claim this not only helps to grow flowers but also yields better-quality seeds.
It all started 8 years ago when a sunflower cultivator noticed a big issue on his plot of land. The farmer, Sivanan had been growing sunflowers on his four-acre land for many years. However, the yield was always less than expected. Despite spending a lot of money on labor and maintenance, the results were always disappointing.
After speaking with other farmers, he realized they too faced the same issue. So the matter was taken to the district’s agricultural officers. In collaboration with a few scientists at the Horticulture College and Research Institute in Periyakulam, they introduced the method of hand pollination to the farmers.
One of the scientists, K Suresh said that the method has been under use for several years, however, it was not widely practiced as the manual labor required is a lot.
How is hand pollination done?
To manually pollinate crops, farmers rub the capitulum of sunflowers with a soft cloth to collect pollen and then apply it to other flowers. Alternatively, they gently rub two nearby flowers face to face. This is done in the mid-flowering phase (58-60 days after planting for long-duration varieties, and 45-48 days for short-duration varieties).
The scientists say that it is to be performed between 9 and 11 am when pollen shedding is high.
Today, farmers can implement this method for their sunflowers and reap the benefits.