Winner of the 2015 Whitley Gold Award donated by the Friends & Scottish Friends of WFN
Each year a member of our alumni is selected to receive the Whitley Gold Award, a profile and PR prize worth £50,000 in project funding, awarded in recognition of their outstanding contribution to conservation.
A global issue
One of every three bites of food we eat is dependent on pollinators. These tiny insects – the bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, flies and beetles – play a critical role in crop pollination. The provision of this free ‘ecosystem service’ is worth an estimated $250 billion annually to the global economy. Without pollinators, the planet’s food security would be at risk, with significant livelihood ramifications; and billions would need to be spent to pollinate crops artificially. However, the increased use of agricultural pesticides and loss of natural habitats has led pollinator numbers to decline dramatically.
From grassroots to government
Dino Martins is a Kenyan entomologist and Chair of the Insect Committee of Nature Kenya. For over 15 years, Dino has worked with farmers in East Africa to raise awareness about the importance of pollinators and encourage the adoption of more sustainable farming practices that conserve pollinators, boost yields, and improve livelihoods. Dino’s work has contributed to local and global conservation programmes, national policies and biodiversity strategies.
A Whitley Award winner in 2009 and a 2011 Continuation Funding recipient, with the support of WFN, Dino has:
- Reduced pesticide use on over 500 farms by up to 75%, and 10% of farms have stopped using them altogether, following outreach regarding the negative effect of pesticides on pollinators and, in turn, on crop yields.
- Improved local income and food security; all 500 farmers reached by the project have benefitted from increased crop yields, some by up to tenfold.
- Boosted awareness and produced a handbook of pollinator-friendly farming practices which has been accessed by over 150,000 farmers to date.
- Lobbied government to secure a ban of several highly toxic pesticides, which is now being implemented in Kenya.
- Worked with partners in government and civil society to develop Kenya’s first legislation to specifically protect bees from pesticides, and recognise their harmful effects.
With his Whitley Gold Award Dino will:
- Tackle the importation, use and spread of unregistered harmful pesticides entering Africa by working with local and international partners.
- Scale up the project to train 4,000 additional farmers in sustainable practices, increase the number of crop varieties monitored, and encourage the planting and conservation of hedgerows for pollinators.
- Develop practical publications for use by farmers that advocate conservation policy.
- Educate 200,000 children, 1,000 high school pupils and 100 university students about the importance of pollinators and sustainable agriculture.
- Encourage stewardship of nature and public engagement to celebrate pollinators through outreach and digital platforms.
“Pollinators put food on our tables, nutrition in our bodies and money in farmers’ pockets.”
With thanks to everyone who donated material to support the creation of Dino Martins’ Whitley Gold Award film, including National Geographic.
2009 Whitley Award Project
People, plants and pollinators: Uniting conservation of insects and sustainable agriculture
Dino Martins is Chairman of the Insect Committee of Nature Kenya, a researcher at the National Museums of Kenya and a PhD fellow at Harvard. Growing up in rural Kenya, he was interested in nature from an early age. “Watching birds and animals, and especially insects was what I looked forward to and continue to look forward to everyday.”
Where others strive to conserve Kenya’s famous national parks and big iconic species, Dino’s focus is on the insects that flourish in tiny forest remnants and at farmland edges. These small wild areas support thousands of species of frogs, butterflies, orchids and trees, providing essential ecosystem services and, most critically, crop pollination. Insects contribute to food security, yet they are often overlooked in conservation.
Only 1.7 % of Kenya remains forested, with islands of trees in a sea of rural subsistence agriculture. For millennia people have farmed around wilder patches. However, increasing pressures are being placed on these areas due to changing farming systems, charcoal production and, more recently, climate change.
Dino’s work is driven by the knowledge that Kenya’s population is booming, people need food and there’s pressure to adopt agri-chemical methods even though sustainable farming is viable. Biodiversity is at risk, with knock-on effects for small farms and their incomes.
A key element of Dino’s work is education. Once, in southern Kenya, he found passion-fruit farmers crushing bees with their hands, to keep them away from their flowers. “But the reason there were no yields on certain crops was because they were killing off the pollinators. Once I explained this, they had bumper yields. Now everyone there recognises the value of insects, especially pollinators”.
He is also tapping local expertise – such as the West Kenyan farmer who has discovered how to harvest honey from stingless wild bees, without destroying a single nest. “It is local people like this who need to be supported and encouraged to scale-up the amazing things they are doing. He is able to sell his honey and, of course, his bees are pollinating his crops”.
Dino has researched the biology of pollinators all over East Africa including those affecting acacias, coffee, papaya, and vanilla. He is developing a long-term programme with schools immediately adjacent to the most biodiverse areas of Kenya, getting kids involved in insect monitoring. He now plans to create a live pollinator exhibit at public sites for farmers, school children and the general public to increase awareness of the importance of insects.
He adds: “Life is fragile and intricately inter-connected. If pollinators die off, human beings won’t be far behind.”