Chennai, October 14, 2010: Under the Mango Tree (UTMT), registered as a society, was set up by Ms. Vijaya Pastala and has in 2009 established 'The Hive', an endeavor to promote community-based beekeeping - "Bees for Poverty Reduction" (BPR), as a solution to India's natural resource problem, specifically decline in agriculture production with a view to increasing incomes and improving livelihoods. This unique BPR pilot project brings together under one umbrella the concepts of (1) creation and diversification of livelihoods in rural areas by adding beekeeping to the basket of activities, (2) increased and sustainable market access for primary producers by facilitating a buyback arrangement for honey and beeswax at premium prices through certification (organic, fair trade), and (3) harnessing the inherent potential of honey bees to add to agricultural productivity due to their role as pollinators. Its main objective is to support, train and partner with beekeepers across the country in the production and marketing of high quality single flora gourmet honey that is available seasonally across India.
Ms. Sujana Krishnamoorthy, an economist by training and the programme leader, helps in the implementation of the project. The beekeeping expertise and field support is provided by Mr. Atar Singh Kaintura, Technical Expert, who has vast and long experience in Apis cerana beekeeping. Funding for the project was provided by the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD). In order to run the BPR Pilot in Bharatiya Agro-Industries Foundation (BAIF) supported wadis in Gujarat and Maharashtra, UTMT partnered with BAIF, which pioneered the wadi programme in seven states in the country.
The main aims of the Pilot project are: (1) to add beekeeping to wadis where the Adivasi Development Programme is being implemented through training, coupled with hand holding support for six months to tribal farmers, and (2) at the same time an intensive capacity building programme to develop a cadre of master trainers who will take the programme forward and scale it up in these clusters in the coming years, (3) focus exclusively on the indigenous bee, Apis cerana indica, and (4) all inputs like bee boxes, and bee veils will be locally manufactured in the clusters leading to further employment generation.
Implementation of the Pilot began during 2009. That the programme is being implemented in the right direction is evident from the progress made in the wadis where the Pilot was taken up. Following are three case studies of farmers in the Nashik and Thane districts of Maharashtra and Valsad district in Gujarat. The report is by the UTMT.
Somajibhai Devjibhai Magi, 26, belongs to the village Dandwal in the interiors of Pindwal area, Dharampur Taluk, District Valsad in Gujarat. He has one acre wadi on which he has planted mango and cashew. In other patches close by he cultivates rice, niger (Guizotia abyssinica), and nagli (finger millet, Elusine corocana) for his family's annual consumption. Somajibhai earns around Rs 10,000 - 15,000 per annum through sale of produce from his land and manual labour.
As a young boy, Somajibhai used to spot natural bee hives in the forest and extract honey from them, as a hobby and for fun. But he never ever imagined that bees could be kept in boxes - "pehle kabhi baksa dekha hi nahi tha" (had not seen a box before), he said. He attended a two-day training at Samgahan where Atar Singh, our Technical Expert, and Mahendrabhai, BAIF staff, explained the benefits of beekeeping for a wadi and the additional income that could be earned through sale of honey.
"Initially I used to get afraid of being stung by bees, but when I saw Atarji handling the bees in the training programme with a lot of ease, I overcame the fear and now I can handle the box and bees easily," says Somajibhai. He stictly follows the dos and donts taught to them during the training, when handling bees and makes sure that his hands are clean when he opens the bee box, as he knows now that bees detest strong odours. He rarely gets stung these days though he opens his box once a week to check on his bees. His family has also quite taken to the idea of beekeeping and helps to maintain the bee boxes, especially when Somajibhai goes to work in other villages. "They clean the bee box, keep ants away, place a damp cloth inside the box during hot days", he says proudly.
Somajibhai says that though it has been only 4 months that he has had 2 bee hives, in these months he has been collecting cucumbers almost every third day from his small cucumber patch. He sells the vegetable at the neighbouring village bazaar. He attributes this increase to the bees, as earlier the same patch used to give cucumbers every sixth or seventh day only. For the last two months, he has earned Rs 150 - Rs 200 more per month due to this. He says, "now I would like to keep more boxes, not so much for the honey, but for the increase in the crop yield." He is very hopeful about increased yields for cashew in his wadi this year, thanks to the bees with him, and hopes to increase the number of bee boxes he has to at least 8 - 10!
Manik - Honey hunter turned Master Trainer
Manik, 35, from the village Bhavandagad in Surgana Taluk of Nashik district, Maharashtra was a passionate honey hunter. His honey hunting skills honed over probably several generations, ensured that during the Holi and Diwali seasons, when hives with honey were found in profusion in the hillsides, he could spot and extract honey from at least 4 - 5 hives in a day - his all time record was 10 hives in a single day! His peers on the other hand, would spot may be one hive a day.
In March 2009, local BAIF staff informed him about some beekeeping training. As he was unlettered, he was unsure how this training would help him, but his curiosity was piqued and so he attended the training. To his amazement, he was told and shown through pictures, how a hive could be gently transferred into a box and how bees once hived in a box, could yield honey in his wadi.
Armed with this information, he was quite eager to put the knowledge to practice. The very next morning he located 2 - 3 natural colonies and waited impatiently for the bee boxes to arrive in his cluster. He waited for 3 days in vain. He then decided to visit the BAIF cluster office to inquire. Two weeks later when the boxes did finally arrive, he got only 2 and quickly transferred the colonies into them. The bees stayed for a week and then a month in the boxes. However, he could not resist the temptation to show off his boxes to visitors and neighbours and once when he was doing this, he was a bit careless and the bees absconded from one box. When the Technical Expert came on his monthly follow up visit, besides narrating this he also told him the reason why. He had been eating his meal and when the visitor came and demanded to see the bees, without washing his hands he opened the box. This resulted in the absconding. He had since refilled the box with another colony.
Excitedly watching this 'bee development', were his neighbours and childhood friends, Vasant Pawar and Sanjay Ahir. Now they too wanted to keep bee boxes. Manik guided them how to capture natural bee colonies and fill the boxes, and by September 2009 all the three of them had 2 boxes each. By Diwali,all of them were able to extract small amounts of honey literally at their door steps. Sanjay Ahir also had a bountiful harvest of amla (Emblica officinalis) in his wadi in March. The size of the amla fruit was bigger than what it had ever been before and Ahir was convinced that the yield and size increase was due to the bees in his wadi.
All the three farmers are now trying to increase the number of bee boxes they have. Manik simultaneously guides other farmers and trains them in colony capture and transfer. He has become a Master Trainer and is proud of the fact that from September this year he will begin training in beekeeping to new farmers in the neighbouring villages. He never hesitates to tell anyone now, how much better it is to transfer natural colonies into boxes, rather than just smoke and extract honey from the hives in the wild, leaving the bees to die.
Bhikare - a farmer who sees the potential in beekeeping
Bhikare, 55, of Patilpada village in Talasari cluster, district Thane in Maharashtra has been collecting honey from wild honey nests in the surrounding hills from the time he was a teenager as and when he came across a hive. he is a progressive small farmer, always willing to try something new. He cultivates everything from rice, ragi (finger millet) to cucumber to vegetables and fruits. Given his aptitude to absorb new information quickly, he was selected by BAIF staff for beekeeping training. He saw a bee box for the first time during the training and absorbed like a sponge all that was said during the training programme.
Post training in September, 2009 he waited for the boxes to arrive. He had already spotted 5 - 6 natural bee colonies which he was eager to transfer into the bee boxes. By the end of October when there was no sign of the boxes arriving, he decided to make his own box, based on what he had seen during the training. He even transferred a colony into this box, so that at the time of the first follow up visit by the Technical Expert in October, he had something to show to Atarji. The Technical Expert praised his effort and explained to Bhikare that his first attempt was a good one, but dimensions could have been better. This was because he did not have a sample box with him while attempting to make the box.
When the boxes finally arrived, he filled his own and also assisted others in filling theirs. As of May 2010 he had 7 bee boxes. When the bee boxes supplied by the BAIF system fell short, he made his own boxes; 3 of his colonies are now in these boxes.
Bhikareji says: "beekeeping gives me good returns by way of honey and increases productivity with less work." He says there has been a greater yield of cucumber in the wadi, while his neighbours have normal yields this year. In all he has extracted about 6 kg of honey (till June 2010), which he sold in the local markets and consumed at home.
Bhikareji also helps other farmers as and when they need assistance. He has also gotten his family involved, with his son supporting him during colony transfers. Through regular practices of natural colony transfers he has learnt the art of what is to be done and what not.