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Economic value of insect pollination worldwide estimated at 153 billion euros

INRA and CNRS French scientists and a UFZ German scientist found that the worldwide economic value of the pollination service provided by insect pollinators, bees mainly, was €153 billion in 2005 for the main crops that feed the world.

This figure amounted to 9.5% of the total value of the world agricultural food production. The study also determined that pollinator disappearance would translate into a consumer surplus loss estimated between €190 to €310 billion. The results of this study on the economic valuation of the vulnerability of world agriculture confronted with pollinator decline are published in the journal "ECOLOGICAL ECONOMICS".

Among biodiversity concerns, the decline of pollinators has become a major issue, but its impact remains an open question. In particular, the economic value of the pollination service they provide had not been assessed on solid ground to date. Based upon the figures of the literature review published in 2007* on pollinator dependence of the main crops used for food, the study just published in ECOLOGICAL ECONOMICS uses FAO and original data to calculate the value of the pollinator contribution to the food production in the world. The total economic value of pollination worldwide amounted to €153 billion in 2005, which represented 9.5% of the value of the world agricultural production used for human food that year.

Three main crop categories (following FAO terminology) were particularly concerned ; fruits and vegetable were especially affected with a loss estimated at €50 billion each, followed by edible oilseed crops with €39 billion. The impact on stimulants (coffee, cocoa…), nuts and spices was less, at least in economic terms.

The scientists also found that the average value of crops that depend on insect pollinators for their production was on average much higher than that of the crops not pollinated by insects, such as cereals or sugar cane (€760 and €150 per metric ton, respectively). The vulnerability ratio was defined as the ratio of the economic value of insect pollination divided by the total crop production value. This ratio varied considerably among crop categories with a maximum of 39% for stimulants (coffee and cocoa are insect-pollinated), 31% for nuts and 23% for fruits. There was a positive correlation between the value of a crop category per production unit and its ratio of vulnerability ; the higher the dependence on insect pollinators, the higher the price per metric ton.

From the standpoint of the stability of world food production, the results indicate that for three crop categories – namely fruits, vegetables and stimulants – the situation would be considerably altered following the complete loss of insect pollinators because world production would no longer be enough to fulfil the needs at their current levels. Net importers, like the European Community, would especially be affected. This study is not a forecast, however, as the estimated values do not take into account all the strategic responses that producers and all segments of the food chain could use if faced with such a loss. Furthermore, these figures consider a total loss of pollinators rather than a gradual decline and, while a few studies that show a linear relationship between pollinator density and production, this must be confirmed.

The consequence of pollinator decline on the well being of consumers, taken here in its economic sense, was calculated based on different price elasticities of demand. The price elasticity represents the effects of price change on consumer purchase, that is, the percent drop in the amount purchased following a price increase of 1%. In our study, we assumed that a realistic value for the price-elasticities would be between -0.8 and -1.5 (for a value of -0.8, the consumer would buy 0.8% less of the product when its price increases by 1%). Under these hypotheses, the loss of consumer surplus would be between €190 and €310 billion in 2005.

These results highlight that the complete loss of insect pollinators, particularly that of honey bees and wild bees which are the main crop pollinators, would not lead to the catastrophic disappearing of world agrioculture, but would nevertheless result in substantial economic losses even though our figures consider only the crops which are directly used for human food. The adaptive strategies of economic actors – such as re-allocation of land among crops and use of substitutes in the food industry – would likely limit somewhat the consequences of pollinator loss.

Yet we did not take into account the impact of pollination shortage onto seeds used for planting, which is very important for many vebetable crops as well as forage crops and thereby the whole cattle industry, non-food crops and, perhaps most importantly, the wild flowers and all the ecosystemic services that the natural flora provides to agriculture and to society as a whole.

Tilo Arnhold | alfa
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