Human Pollinators

By Anupum Pant

A successful fruit production process in a plant starts when the pollen moves to the stigma. When this happens in a single plant, it is called self pollination and if the pollen from one plant’s anther goes to stigma of another plant, it is called cross pollination. Bees and other such insects are responsible for this normally. But in the past there have been human pollinators too.

Apples start as flowers first. And only when bees carry the pollens from one tree to another and pollinate the stigma of the other plant, these flowers get a chance to form into apples. This happens when worker bees sit on flowers and collect nectar. The pollen gets stuck to their feet and moves to the stigma of the other plant when they sit on those flowers later on. Without bees, there wouldn’t be any apples.

In the 90s near the Chengdu city in China, these bees regularly used to show up every season to pollinate the apple blossoms. One unfortunate day, they didn’t come. The reason for their absence was not known. Some said, it were the pesticides, others said it were the greedy honey collectors who drove away all the bees. Anyway, there were no bees to make apples now.

So, human workers were hired to cross pollinate the apple tree blossoms. With the help of chopsticks, brushes and other soft material, these workers worked hard and transferred pollen to the blossoms of each tree. What do you think was the result of this.

The apples grew. The most interesting thing is that this time the produce was 30-40% better than what farmers used to get when bees pollinated these flowers. Clearly, human pollinators were much better (economically) than bees. That was mostly because, humans diligently pollinated every single flower. But bees would accidentally  pollinate. The ones which did not end up getting pollinated would wither and fall eventually. Also, human workers would work in all kinds of weather conditions. While bees weren’t very keen on working while it was raining.

The other way this was economically better for the region was – Human workers would get paid, they’d then go back to the market and spend this money. That in turn created more jobs for people who supplied goods and services to these payers. Economically beneficial.

Biologists and conservationists of course didn’t think that getting rid of critters and insects for economic benefit wasn’t a very good idea.

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