Bees are Big Business

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Apiculture has immense potential to create jobs and supplement farm incomes, says Shiny Kirupa

P.S Bhat, a bee-keeper from Bilgi village in Siddapur taluk of Uttara Kannada district, says he earns a tidy profit selling honey from his apiary, which consists of 10-15 bee boxes. A single box fetches him 18-20 litres of honey which he harvests twice a year and sells for Rs. 400-500 a litre. For the past 20 years he has been rearing thuduve bees, which are endemic to the Western Ghats and claims that the honey produced by his bees are superior in quality and have medicinal value.

Moderate climatic conditions with a wide range of flora and vegetation, typical of many hills tracts across India,are best suited for apiculture. It’s fast emerging as an alternative livelihood option in rural areas as farmers increasingly turn to beekeeping to supplement their incomes.

The collection of wild honey from the forests has been an age-old practice among forest dwellers around the world. The commercialisation of the honey-collecting trade led to a shift from “bee hunting” to what we call “beekeeping”. The process of breeding bees especially for procuring honey and other products on a commercial scale is termed apiculture. Not only is honey used in food items as a sweetening agent but it also used for medicinal purposes.

The Khadi and Village Industries Commission has played a major role in promoting apiculture in India by setting up beekeeping units, creating training institutes and so on. It has helped establish beekeeper-cooperative societies in villages that have a high potential for producing honey. These cooperatives extend loans and supply beekeeping equipment at subsidized rates to farmers.

“In return, we breed bees and give them the raw honey,” says Stephen, a member of Marthandam Beekeeper’s Society in Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu. “Local brands such as Malar and Indian Honey give stiff competition to commercial brands like Dabur, Lion etc. Though their prices vary, the distinct quality and flavour of each local honey is always retained, which makes them distinct.”

Bee-keeping has become an ideal, sustainable livelihood option in Sikkim, providing a much-needed boost to state’s agricultural economy. Sikkim, which declared itself an “organic state” in January 2016, is moving from traditional, low-productive practices to modern beekeeping. Bees are crucial to other components of the Sikkim’s agriculture. The state contributes 53% of world’s supply of large cardamom, and although the plant is capable of self-pollinating, pollinators play a major role cross-pollination.

Sikkim’s hilly terrain, moderate climate and evergreen vegetation have proved a boon to apiculture. Over 4,000 families have been trained in beekeeping and around 7,000 hives have been distributed. Not only is the sale of honey profiting these farmers, but also those of bi-products from bee hives such as beeswax, propolis, royal jel and bee venom. With minimal investment and quick returns, apiculture is becoming a cottage industry here

Apart from government initiatives to spread awareness about the benefits of beekeeping, many NGO’s are also reaching out to poorer communities to educate, train and teach them the finer points of beekeeping. Under The Mango Tree (UTMT), an NGO based in Maharashtra, has successfully promoted beekeeping in rural areas of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh and have been giving training in the technical aspects of beekeeping. In the process, they have created additional job opportunities for both men and women.

UTMT teaches carpenters to make bee boxes and uses traditional honey hunters to help farmers spot bee colonies in their localities. It has also trained local women in self-help groups to produce beekeeping inputs like swarm bags and bee veils. UTMT has ties with a UK-based NGO, Bees Abroad, which works with disadvantaged communities across Africa, in countries including Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana.

Major honey producing states in the country are Punjab, Haryana, HP, UP and West Bengal. Approximately, 2.5 million farmers in India are involved in beekeeping. Considering that annual per-capita consumption of honey in India is just 8 grams, the potential for expanding the market is immense.

Apiculture is not just profitable; it is also a big generator of employment and a major contributor to improved nutritional standards. It benefits allied businesses like floriculture, which is vital for a successful beekeeping industry. According to horticulture department, Tamil Nadu, with 4.17 lakh tonnes and Karnataka with 2.8 lakh tonnes, were the country’s biggest producers of flowers. Not surprisingly, both states are emerging as major honey producers too.


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