To bee or not to bee ? Scientific beekeeping promises remunerative income for farmers

To bee or not to bee ?
Scientific beekeeping promises remunerative income for farmers

For years together, tribals and many others have followed the traditional methods of extracting honey by burning down the honeycombs, thereby killing thousands of bees.  This process effectively deprives forests of pollinating

agents, necessary for growth of flora.  Also, in the process large quantity of wax also gets destroyed.
But the things have begun to change.  Tribals in the Melghat area of Maharashtra are now learning to avoid traditional methods and adopt scientific processes, which promise safety, as well as fetch better remuneration.  They now venture out in night, clad in denim overalls, including headgear with sting protection, armed with an easy-to-operate collection kit.  A side portion of the colony comb is cut in such a way that three quarters of the honey stored here is extracted.  The removed portion in the comb usually fills up within a month and is ready for another harvest.  The honey extracted is sold under the brand name ‘Hunting Honey’ which is in great demand in Japan.
Over the years, several efforts have been made to train traditional bee hunters to adopt modern, scientific bee hunting practices.  The Institute imparting necessary training and skills is the Central Bee Research & Training Institute located in Pune with the help of the United Nations Development Fund.  This Institute is the only centre for beekeeping training in the country and is recognized internationally as an important bee keeping training centre for developing countries in Asia and Africa.  It conducts training programmes ranging from 1 day to up to 15 months, covering elementary bee keeping, Queen Bee rearing, rock-bee handling for tribals, colony management, bee disease control, honey processing etc.
Bee keeping as an economic activity.
The growing market potential for honey and its products has resulted in bee keeping emerging as a viable enterprise. Honey and wax are the two economically important products of bee keeping. Many farmers are taking up bee keeping as an economic activity for additional income generation.
Collection of honey from the forests has been in existence for a long time. In 1952 a small Apicultural Research Centre was established in the hill station of Mahabaleshwar in Maharashtra. The The Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) recognized the importance of strong research base for improving the beekeeping Industry in India and under the Directorate of Beekeeping industry established the Central Bee Research & Training Institute at Shivajinagar in Pune, on 1st November 1962. It was entrusted with the responsibility of Apicultural research and training activities.
The Institute maintains different species of honeybees at experimental apiaries.  Selection of bees and colonies are made based on certain parameters of better performance and productivity.  The improved techniques in apiculture are transferred to beekeepers for improving their economic conditions.   The Institute also studies the biology and behaviour of rock bee – Apis Dorsata, which helps it develop suitable training programmes for tribal honey hunters.
There are four species of honeybees in India. Rock bee – Apis dorsata are the best honey gathers with an average yield of 50-80 kg per colony. European Bee – Apis Mellifera, yields an average production of 25-40 kgs per colony. Indian Bee-Apis Cerana Indica yields 6-8 kg, the Little Bee – Apis florea yields only about 200-900 grams of honey per colony. In addition to the above, another species is also present in Kerala known as stingless bees. They are efficient pollinators but only yield 300-400 g of honey per year.
Royal Jelly – the potential money spinner
Royal jelly is a  honeybee secretion that is used in the nutrition of larvae as well as adult queens. It is secreted by the worker bees, and fed to all larvae in the colony. The larvae that get fed solely on royal jelly hatch as Queen Bee, which is the most important member of the hive.  Royal Jelly contains a broad range of vitamins, amino acids, proteins, minerals and carbo-hydrates. Among other hive products, interest is growing in the use of royal jelly as a dietary supplement, as a medicine and in cosmetics as an anti-ageing agent.  Central Bee Research & Training Institute, Pune has taken up a project on Royal Jelly production, as an additional income generating activity.
The Central Bee Research & Training Institute has also undertaken awareness campaign to promote beekeeping as an allied activity along with agriculture.  Bee hives neither demand additional land space nor do they compete with agriculture or animal husbandry for any input. The beekeeper needs only to spare a few hours in a week to look after his bee colonies.
The Institute, through its 6 Zonal Centres and 18 Branch Extension Centres surveys new areas with potential for bee keeping, through field trials. It has designed and developed suitable bee keeping equipment like hives, extractors, smokers, protection gear etc.  The portable honey testing kit, designed by the Institute has been distributed to over 200 individuals and organizations. It has also developed new design for hives with thermostatic and ventilation systems for improved bee management.
India has a potential to keep about 120 million bee colonies, that can provide self-employment to over 6 million rural and tribal families. In terms of production, these bee colonies can produce over 1.2 million tons of honey and about 15,000 tons of beeswax. Organized collection of forest honey and beeswax using improved methods can result in an additional production of at least 120,000 tons of honey and 10,000 tons of beeswax. Indian honey also has a good export market. With the use of modern collection, storage, beekeeping equipment, honey processing plants and bottling technologies the potential export market can be tapped.