Chennai, June 11, 2012 (Thanks to Dr. K.K. Kshirsagar, Pune for the news alert): In a news story in The Financial Express dated June 8, 2012, Ashwani Sharma says that there are over 85,000 families in Himachal Pradesh engaged in beekeeping and the state produces 1600 tonnes of honey annually. The state is becoming the biggest producer of Himalayan honey.
The state Horticulture Department records that beekeepers of the state had been keeping Apis cerana. However, since the introduction of A. mellifera into the state in 1961, the European bee species is increasingly used for apiculture. There are 80,000 bee colonies of A. mellifera kept by about 1500 beekeepers. Beekeeping with A. mellifera involves migration of the colonies 2 or 3 times a year for honey production.
Though a large number of A. cerana colonies were lost due to Thai sac brood disease in 1970s and 1980s, populations of this species revived and reestablished naturally in subsequent years, particularly in hill and forest regions of the state. In these regions A. mellifera is found to be less productive than the indigenous species. "Himachal Pradesh, owing to its varied agro-climate, has a great variety of bee forage sources that provide the basis for development of beekeeping industry in the state. The potential and success in beekeeping development is dependent on the quality and quantity of bees and bee flora available and the technology used," say Verma and Attri* in their paper reporting the results of their survey of the economic viability of beekeeping with the indigenous bee species. The study showed that it is more economical to keep 10 A. cerana colonies in hilly regions like Chamba, than keeping 46 colonies of A. mellifera. They conclude: "Economic efficiency of Apis cerana (indigenous beekeeping) is shown to be more economic than Apis mellifera. Beekeeping with Apis cerana should be encouraged for rural households with low investment capacity."
More than honey production, beekeeping is important in the state for its role in pollination of fruit crops, particularly apple. Orchardists pay the beekeepers Rs. 400 to Rs. 700 per bee colony for the pollination services. In a Report on the importance of pollinators and pollination in vegetable seed production in Kullu Valley of Himachal Pradesh, Dr. Harish Sharma, Horticulture Research Station, Kullu informs that Rs. 300 to Rs. 800 are being paid per bee colony used on hire for pollination in vegetable seed production, by research farms and private companies.
Reacting to the news story, Dr. K.K. Kshirsagar sent the following e-mail (Personal communication) on June 8, 2012 to the 'Editpage' of Express India.
"'Honey from the Hills' (IE June 8, 2012) took me around thirty years back, when I worked at Kangra (Himachal Pradesh) for two years on honey bees as a senior scientific officer doing research on bee diseases. The article by Ashwani Sharma broadly covers many important aspects of development of beekeeping in the state as an agriculture-based industry. Role of honey bees in enhancing fruit crops to an extent of 15 to 20 per cent, besides honey production is indeed most important. However, introduction of Apis mellifera, an exotic bee species has almost wiped out the indigenous A. cerana indica, the Indian hive bee species. It was so far - say till 1960s, free from any bee disease, but it now suffers from six to seven major diseases, taking a heavy toll of their colonies. Performance of the imported species is wonderful, no doubt, but it is equally important to conserve the biodiversity of the region. The indigenous species always possess centuries-old hereditary traits that prove beneficial to them. Selective breeding of honey bees to improve performance and production would always have been helpful which has unfortunately been ignored by bee scientists. Anyway, the Himachal honey bee story by Ashwani Sharma is quite encouraging. Many thanks. -- Dr. K.K. Kshirsagar"
*Verma, S. and Attri, P.K. 2008. Indigenous beekeeping for sustainable development in Himachal Himalaya. Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge 7 (2): 221-225.