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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)

April 2021: The economic value of bees in the US is estimated at $34 billion (2012 data), which is higher than previously anticipated. Key agricultural areas that produce economically and nutritionally valuable crops are dependent on pollinators such as honeybees but often provide poor habitat and foraging conditions for pollinators. To mitigate declining numbers of wild pollinators, farmers should consider improving pollinator habitat and foraging quality alongside transitioning to more sustainable agricultural systems.


The economic value of insect pollinators was estimated to be $34 billion in 2012, the latest year for which data is available. This is higher than previously thought and shows how key agricultural areas in the US depend on pollinators such as honeybees. Particularly, areas that produce economically and nutritionally valuable crops such as apples and almonds. Often, areas that are economically most reliant on insect pollinators are monocultures that provide poor pollinator habitat and forage quality for pollinators. To balance farmers’ increasing need for pollinators and declining levels of existing wild colonies, famers frequently rent or buy bee colonies to support crop pollination. However, one-third of managed honeybee colonies die each winter in the U.S. with populations of wild pollinators continuously declining; a trend that is often linked to the high use of pesticides in monocultures. Overall, 20% of US counties produce 80% of the countries’ nutritionally and economically valuable crops out of which 80% are directly dependent on wild and managed pollinators.

Implications and opportunities

Pollinators such as bees play an important role in agricultural systems and are a key factor that underpins the health of ecosystems, human nutrition, and contribute to the economic viability of crop farming. The heightened emphasis on the economic value of pollinators could inform conservation efforts and incentivise more sustainable production systems of key crops. Such systems could include farmers providing more suitable habitats for insects and producing more diverse crops that include fundamentals for healthy diets such as fruits, nuts, and vegetables. This is particularly relevant for key areas which show a high economic dependence on but low predicted abundance of pollinators. Improving pollinator habitats in key agricultural areas could serve as models for sustainable agriculture and pollinator conservation practices.


The findings outlined above focus on the economic value of pollinators in the US. Further research will be needed to estimate the economic value of pollinators in other geographical locations to design effective sustainable agriculture and pollinator conservation practices.


Jordan, A. (2021). Economic dependence and vulnerability of United States Agricultural Sector on insect-mediated pollination service. Environmental Science & Technology. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.0c04786

Allegretto, A. (2021). The price of bees. Available at: