Award-winning scientist Dr Dino J. Martins talks to msafiri about his career as an entomologist and the importance of his work
Name: Dr Dino J. Martins
Profession: Entomologist & Evolutionary Biologist
Organisation: Mpala Research Centre and Nature Kenya
Area of work: Forests in Western Kenya, Drylands of Northern Kenya
Websites/email: www.discoverpollinators.org www.naturekenya.org www.mpala.org firstname.lastname@example.org
Q As an entomologist, how did you become interested in insects?
My earliest memories are of insects! I spent a lot of time watching and chasing after them as a child; growing up we didn’t have television, so after school I would spend my time watching insects. I was incredibly lucky to grow up in Eldoret, a rural area in Western Kenya, where I was able to see first-hand the connection between nature, people and farming at an early age. My favourite activity was, (and still is), spending time in the bush looking at insects!
Q Why are insects so important?
As Professor E. O. Wilson stated so eloquently some time ago: “Insects are the little creatures that run the world.” This is truer than ever in Africa where insects pollinate wild plants and crops, disperse seeds, help build soil and recycle nutrients through the whole ecosystem. Understanding biodiversity is essential for sustainable development and conservation in Africa today. Frankly speaking, without the insects, our life on this planet would be untenable.
Q How does your work help Kenya’s farmers?
Farmers are at the very frontline of conserving nature in East Africa. Choices made by farmers on what they do with their land, how they plant and manage crops and how they manage pesticides have a huge impact on insects like bees. Over two-thirds of the crops we grow in East Africa depend on pollinators, and most of these are wild insects, mainly bees.
Farmers are our greatest allies in the conservation of biodiversity in East Africa. Most of the forest habitats, for example, are surrounded by small-scale farmers whose actions can go a long way to either protect or degrade the forests, and of course the many endemic species they are home to. Our main message shared with farmers is to celebrate the biodiversity that underpins the life support systems of the planet, to get them, and in fact everyone, to understand the connection between their own lives, food production and wild insects.
We work with farmers performing a simple experiment where we bag one flower and leave one open to insects, then watch what develops over the next few days or weeks depending on the crop. It is always uplifting to see the moment a light goes on in the farmers’ eyes when they see the connection between insects visiting the flowers and the yields they enjoy. Working to help conserve pollinators and restore habitats has seen yields increase up to ten-fold on some crops, such as passionfruit and watermelon.
Q You recently won a prestigious Whitley Gold Award presented by HRH The Princess Royal in London. How do you feel about winning this award worth £50,000?
I am very honoured and deeply humbled to have been recognised with the Whitley Gold Award, donated by the Friends and Scottish Friends of the Whitley Fund for Nature. I take this award as recognition for the immense contribution by pollinators, insects, and small-scale farmers in rural areas around the world, to biodiversity. So I am receiving it, I feel, on their behalf; I am simply the messenger and it is the bees and farmers who are the real heroes here.
Q How will you be using your award funding to help your work and what do you hope to achieve in the future?
The Whitley Gold Award will enable us to scale up our work on the conservation of pollinators in East Africa, tackle the use of unregistered harmful pesticides and raise further awareness among farmers, school children and the general public about this important ecosystem service that puts food on our plates and nutrition in our bodies. We will be developing some practical tool-kits and information for farmers that will be distributed freely through various print and digital media channels. For now, those interested can download a copy of our book on pollinator conservation, with a foreword from Professor Judi Wakhungu, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Natural Resources in Kenya, from this link: http://discoverpollinators.org/pollinators/pollinatorhandbook/
Our main message… is to celebrate the bio-diversity that underpins the life support systems of the planet & the connection between their own lives, food production & wild insects.
Did you know?
Insects pollinate wild plants and crops, disperse seeds, help build soil and recycle nutrients through the whole ecosystem.