By Vikas Prakash Joshi
On the occasion of World Honeybee Day, celebrated every year on the third Saturday of August, it is significant to note that India is today the world’s sixth largest producer of honey. (1) Over 2.5 lakh farmers in India are involved in beekeeping or ‘apiculture’ as a business, as per the data of the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC).(2)
Beekeeping offers several advantages to farmers: its input costs are low, it helps in pollination of flowers, thus helping farmers with producing their crops. There is a growing market for it as well, as demand for healthier alternatives to sugar drives demand for honey and other sugar substitutes. Beekeeping also has applications in candle making; beeswax is used for making candles. Recognizing the potential of this sector, in September 2017, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had called for a ‘sweet revolution’ in honey production on the lines of the white revolution in milk or blue revolution in fishing.
In fact, experts like Dr. Shantanu Jha, Professor, Agricultural Entomology, of the Bidhan Chandra Krishi Vishwavidyalaya in West Bengal say that India has potential to maintain least 200 million bee colonies, which could provide employment to 215 lakh people. However, the current reality of the beekeeping or apiculture industry in India is a far cry from this. According to the data of the KVIC, India at present has only 25 lakh bee colonies.
Challenges of apiculture
The reason for the divergence between potential and reality is rooted in several challenges that apiculture faces in India. As the majority of those involved in beekeeping are small and marginal farmers they lack the capacity to invest in marketing infrastructure. Second, the beekeepers often lack training in managing their bees. Third, beekeepers in rural areas find it difficult to reach consumers beyond their village.
Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR), in light of the above potential and the challenges, has taken steps in Jharkhand to promote apiculture and thereby boost livelihoods and incomes of the local community.
Sujaya Dangwar, Assistant Manager at WOTR’s Regional Resource Centre in Murhu, Jharkhand, says “Apiculture or beekeeping is a good source of supplementary income for forest dwellers. It also helps farmers immensely as bees pollinate crops. Under the Wasundhara project, we identified it as a livelihood option and our project location gave us the opportunity to try out this source of livelihood with farmers. The key problems we identified were lack of training and skilled human resource for taking up bee keeping. Secondly farmers who wanted to take up bee keeping did not have boxes to store bees. So besides training, we provided the interested farmers with boxes for undertaking apiculture.”
One such beneficiary under the programme is Sudarshan Besra (35), who practices beekeeping in Sidhu Karanjtoli village in Jharkhand’s Murhu block. He narrates his story to us.
Sudarshan Besra, a beekeeper in Sidhu Karanjtoli village of Jharkhand’s Murhu block. Photo: Vikas Prakash Joshi
He says “My father practiced beekeeping as a profession and I too continued this tradition, but I had only 20 boxes and lacked know-how in the technical aspects of beekeeping. The boxes are used for breeding bees. Four years ago in 2014, I received some training in beekeeping from a Ranchi-based non-governmental organisation. This inspired me to expand my beekeeping business. However, for this I needed more boxes so that I could breed more bees. In February 2018, when I came to know that WOTR provided assistance to farmers who wished to take up apiculture, I requested assistance in this regard. It was a great help when WOTR gave me 103 boxes to help in this regard. Each box costs around Rs. 2,500 of which I had to contribute Rs. 250 per box. Besides, one of my sisters also received training from WOTR in making candles from bees wax.”
Sudarshan explains that there are two kinds of bees widely present in Jharkhand and India; Indian bees and Italian bees. While local honeysellers like Sudarshan depend more on Indian or local bees, but bigger companies depend on Italian bees, which are generally more productive than Indian bees. “The productivity of Italian bees is greater than Indian bees. In a year, a colony of Italian bees gives up to 30 to 40 kg of honey per colony per year. The local honeybees, on the other hand, can give you 10 to 12 kg of honey per colony per year or less. This difference in production makes it challenging for small beekeepers to compete. ”
Sudarshan Besra standing in front of his honey boxes. Photo: Vikas Prakash Joshi
He also points out that small beekeepers like him face other challenges, but expresses hope for the future. “Thanks to WOTR, I have over 123 boxes, as compared to just 20 beforehand. But with more boxes, the honey production will increase in the times to come. The local villages around here cannot sustain this demand. We sell honey at around Rs. 500 per kg, and some customers here find it expensive, so we need to reach consumers in Murhu town and Ranchi. But there we face competition from major companies as well, who produce bottled honey. So we need market linkages and more consumer awareness of our honey. This is the next big challenge for small beekeepers. If these can be tackled through cooperatives and Farmer Produce Organisations, beekeeping can indeed be a very good livelihood option for farmers. We too could taste the sweet taste of success,” he signs off.
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