I: What is your name and what is your role?
G: My name is Georgios Kleftodimos and I am a researcher at the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute in Montpellier, specialising in agricultural and environmental economics.
I: Could you tell us tweet style, what is your field of research?
G: One of my research fields is the economic valuation of pollination services on our farms or ecosystem services in general, applying different types of methodologies in order to capture the monetary values of these ecosystem services. In addition, I offer vital information to stakeholders and policy officials to motivate them to change their practices and protect the environment.
I: When did you start developing this passion for this field of research?
G: When I finished my studies in Greece, I went to France to take a Master’s degree. During my studies, I had the opportunity to work on aspects of pollination services and I found these topics very intriguing, very interesting, because I also had to work with beekeepers and farmers who use hives to have pollination services in their systems.
Since this field combined both economic theory and practice (of working with bees), this caught my attention and I decided to do a lot of work on this topic. Focusing on bees and wild pollinators was a good choice because it is a very interesting topic!
I: When you were a kid, what did you dream of becoming when you grew up?
G: When I was a kid, I didn’t dream about what I would do, I was pretty lazy as a student and I didn’t really like studying. By chance I noticed the Agricultural University of Athens and I didn’t come from a rural area nor from a family with a tradition in agriculture, so it was a total coincidence!
Around the age of 21-22, I was inspired by a professor at the university and decided to take a PhD. I found his profession very interesting and the fact that I could work as I wanted, to dabble in whatever field inspired me.
I: Could you tell us two areas of research that you think are interesting?
G: I would say two fields: Physics and Social Sciences.
Physics because it is an area that keeps surprising us: every time we can see something that we don’t know, there is always room to go further and further to discover more things.
Social sciences, but with a very broad scientific scope. I would say they are important because they help us understand our past, our culture and help us build a better future. To give an example, today, at European level, we have a problem with beekeepers. They earn little money and it is not a business that attracts many young people, but if we were to study it from a social science perspective, we would see that beekeeping is a profession with deep cultural aspects and values of the European way of life. For generations, beekeepers have travelled, because it was a nomadic profession, across the European landscape and they themselves were shaping it.
Bees are responsible for most of the pollination of crops and wild flowers. We have cultural aspects that are very important in cultural diversity. They are creating the European landscape and preserving natural resources. European landscape because of wild flowers and plants and they are vital to natural resources. That is why I think we should also look at the social sciences because it is not always only important how much we gain.
I: In your opinion, what is the main threat to pollinators in general nowadays?
G: The main threat is human activity. For both pollinators and bees, agricultural activity is the main threat because of the intensive use of pesticides and the deterioration of natural habitats. In many cases in Europe we have the merging of the market for pollination services where large numbers of hives are coming into the agricultural landscape and replacing native pollinators. They also transmit bacteria and diseases. The agricultural paradigm we are following in Europe is against all natural resources and is a major threat to pollinators. Hopefully, with the new Common Agricultural Policy, several legislations are trying to restore wild pollinators and bee pollinators in landscapes.
France, for example, has banned all neonicotinoids (a category of pesticides deadly to bees). There are some steps, but there is still much to be done in terms of public policy. Hopefully they will do something because, and I say this as an economist, the losses will be really bad. France alone is very dependent on pollinated crops, so a loss of bees or wild pollinators will hurt national income a lot.
I: If you had a budget of one million euro, how would you use it to help pollinators?
G: I would establish a case study, as a demonstration, in an intensive agricultural area and implement different practices in order to restore pollinators. Because farmers are very stubborn, they want to see something before they adopt it. So this would be the perfect case study to allow them to adopt some of the practices implemented in it. With the money I will rent a piece of land to show the farmers that there are alternative ways that are still very profitable, but that respect pollinators. That’s how farmers work, they wait for someone to make the first move.
I: In your opinion, what scientific breakthrough could realistically be achieved in the next 5-10 years that could have a big impact on the protection of pollinators in your area?
G: I don’t think we need to find anything more. We are now working a lot on the details. The basics and the discoveries are already there. We know what will happen, what we lack is implementation. That means we have found a lot of innovation and now it is time to act and promote these discoveries to implement them.The task now goes to those who make the laws. One breakthrough could be to unify legislation at European level because bees are now considered an animal in some countries and a European product in others. It is not clear, so one of the things we need is common legislation for all of us.
I: What is your favourite insect?
G: I would say bumblebees, they are very cute! Insects are generally not very cute, but bumblebees are quite unique, but I also like honeybees. They provide a lot of things so I like them too!