World Bee Day is being celebrated on May 20. This is an apt occasion to share the success story of more than 4,000 small and marginal farmers who have taken up beekeeping through the Farmer Producer Organisation (FPO), Devbhumi Natural Products Producer Company Limited (DNPPCL). The FPO works in remote villages of the Himalayan Garhwal region of Uttarakhand. It has lent loans to its farmer members for taking up beekeeping and honey production as a source of livelihood. It has also used grant assistance for training, capacity-building and market promotion of the locally processed honey. Both the loan and grant assistance flow from the innovative joint venture of the National Bank of Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) and Germany-based development bank Deutsche Gesellschaft.
The FPO approach in Uttarakhand has accrued several impacts towards the last mile for beekeeping and honey production. Appropriate tree species have been planted to enhance pollination. This has, in turn, strengthened the protection of biodiversity conservation for bees in the districts of Chamoli, Rudraprayag, Tehri Garhwal, and Uttarkashi. The project has also encouraged private entrepreneurship among youth through setting up breeding centers and carpentry for bee-box manufacturing. This has had the impact of reducing migration from the hills to the plains. The ‘Doubling Farmers Income (DFI) Report’, 2018, observes that human intervention in breeding, rearing, and managing bees is an agro-based activity that can be undertaken to supplement the income of farmers. Honeybee pollination is essential for crops such as mustard, sunflower, oilseeds, pulses, etc. It also raises yield and increases the production of cross-pollinated crops such as cabbages, cauliflower, carrots, etc. Furthermore, it is an enabler for a diversified range of high-value beehive products e.g., honey, bee wax, bee pollen, propolis, royal jelly, bee venom, etc. The DFI Report further adds that beekeeping has the potential to generate employment for landless farmers, hill dwellers, and tribals and that the net income from 100 bee colonies varies from Rs three lakh to Rs five lakh annually.
In 2020-21, the number of bee colonies maintained by approximately one lakh beekeepers in India was 36 lakhs with a honey production of 125 thousand metric tons. In the same year, the volume of export of honey stood at approximately 60 thousand metric tons. The exports (valued at more than Rs 700 crores) went to markets of the USA, Canada, Saudi Arabia, and UAE. Interestingly, the states of Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Punjab, and Bihar account for more than 50 percent of the total honey production in the country. Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, and Haryana also produce considerable quantities. There are multiple national-level ministries and departments associated with various aspects of beekeeping, including research, development, capacity-building, standards, export, and project implementation. Primarily, the National Bee Board (NBB), under the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, has been mandated with the role of ensuring scientific beekeeping across the country through setting up integrated beekeeping development centers as well as training and building the capacity of beekeepers. To give further impetus to the above, a Rs 500-crore National Beekeeping and Honey Mission were announced under the 2020 Atma Nirbhar Bharat Krishi Package.
Experts point towards the following key issues to effectively promote the adoption of beekeeping, especially amongst small and marginal farmers: First, on account of the country’s immense biodiversity, there is tremendous potential for the development of different kinds of honey specific to a particular region, and also particular crops. Hence, there is a need to support various honey hubs or clusters — apple honey (Jammu & Kashmir, Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh), litchi honey (Bihar), mustard honey (Rajasthan), coconut honey (Kerala, Karnataka, and Tamil Naidu), organic honey (Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Sikkim), multi-floral honey (Maharashtra), coriander honey (Madhya Pradesh), etc. Second, an accurate digital database of registered beekeepers and their practices has to be maintained for traceability. Third, to monitor the prescribed standards, quality control facilities for honey through a network of additional regional and district-level laboratories will have to be planned and set up. Fourth, capacity-building and awareness training has to be enhanced with a sustained focus on migratory beekeeping induced by constant floral changes in agro-climatic zones. Fifth, the marketing and branding of bee products has to be incentivized with a focus on post-harvest management to avoid excessive stocking. And lastly, there is a need to focus on R&D for raising quality nucleus stock, disease resistance, and uniformity of bee management methods in different parts of the country.
The actual writer is an Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare, Government of India. Whose views expressed are personal and are published here by Interview Times Reporter Priya Bharti.
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