India’s bee industry calls for attention

By: Staff Reporter
With inadequate training, poor pest management, and lack of quality marketing facilities, the 60 million USD honey industry’s growth is hampered. With a potential for annual exports growth pegged at 20 per cent, honey can be a good income source for agriculturists.
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A decade ago, Kuntanahalli, a village in Doddabalapur taluk, located 55 kms to the North West of Bangalore, was laden with bountiful produce throughout the year. As the Doddabalur town changed into a small industrial hub, the villagers started selling agricultural land while many quit farming. This in turn severely affected the apiary activity in the region. Lakshman Gowda, 51, a marginal farmer in Kuntanahalli recalls yields of 10-12 kgs of honey per year, per beehive box, a decade ago, from the Apis Cerana, an Asiatic honeybee variety suitable for domestication. However, today, it yields him just one third (3-4 kgs) with the same variety in the same place.

Gowda, a third-generation apiculturist, practices beekeeping as a secondary activity, where agriculture is his main source of income. He seems to be well aware of the reasons for the decline. “The bees are not getting enough food. The loss of vegetation, the lesser cultivation of high-nectar yielding flower varieties, and excessive use of toxic pesticides are some of the reasons. This also results in reduction of honeybees to pollinate crops,” Gowda said. However, this has not deterred Gowda from becoming a model farmer who now trains other villagers for a secondary livelihood option through beekeeping. He earns about Rs one lakh annually just through honey production.

Another farmer, Medappa Gowda from Madikeri, a hill station town in Karnataka, cites deforestation as the reason for the decline in honey production. ApisDorsata, known as rock bees are usually found in the forest region and they are larger in size compared to ApisCerana. Also, they can travel a longer distance compared to the latter that can fly to just about 2 kms in search of nectar. It is estimated that two-third of the honey produced in India comes from the ApisDorsata species.

Dr N S Bhat, Senior Scientist, Department of Apiculture, University of Agricultural Sciences, GKVK, Bangalore says, honey bees are not resistant to most pesticides sprayed to save crops. “Many bees are killed by (toxic) pesticides, resulting in reduced yield of crops dependent on bee pollination. In particular, the beehives cannot survive in the cotton and red gram growing regions as excessive pesticides are used for these two crops.”

According to the ‘Standing Committee Report (GoI) on Chemical and Fertilizer’, 2013, presented in the Lok Sabha by the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers, GoI, there seems to be a silver lining in the consumption of chemical pesticides in Karnataka, which has reportedly declined from 1,588 metric tones in terms of technical grade in 2007-08 to 1272 metric tonnes in 2011-12. Also heartwarming is the fact that the use of bio-pesticides across the country, including Karnataka has increased from a mere 123 metric tonnes in 1994-95 to 8,110 metric tonnes in 2011-12.

Dr Bhat cites other reasons which are hampering the growth and production of honey in the country. “Increasing cost of beehive box, inadequate and unsystematic training programmes, and lack of quality control measures are an impediment to the growth of the honey industry,” Bhat said. “The present training modules (for beekeeping) of the government are nothing but awareness programmes. There need to be a more concentrated effort to engage young farmers and train them adequately to suit the change in living environment,” Bhat added. Selection of good apiary sites, breeding of good quality bees, and proper beehive management are key elements to ensure success in beekeeping.

The Department of Commerce, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, GoI, authorised the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) to monitor the quality of honey and check for residues of drugs (antibiotics), pesticides, and heavy metals in raw honey; at the honey processing unit; and in processed/packaged honey. In 2011, European Economic Commission (EEC) banned the import of Indian honey for 18 months until strong quality control measures were put in place. Maintaining quality and checking for standards is a concern even in the domestic market. Standards for honey have been prescribed under Prevention of Food Adulteration (PFA) Rules, 1955 as under.

 No pesticide residues or antibiotics are allowed in honey.

 Moisture level -not more than 25 per cent by mass  Acidity (expressed as formic acid)- Not more than 0.2 per cent by mass

 Lead- Not more than 2.5 ppm

 Copper- Not more than 30.0 ppm  Mercury- Not more than 1.0 ppm (*ppm – parts per million)

There are around seven lakh registered beekeepers in India. According to the National Bee Board, Government of India, as on 31 July, 2013, there were 6.97 lakh beekeepers (individuals, beekeeping societies, companies and firms) with more than 10 registered bee colonies. According to the Ministry of Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises, in 2012-13 India produced a total of 0.92 lakh metric tonnes of honey. Meanwhile, it was 1.12 lakh metric tonnes during 2010-11 and 0.84 during 2011-12. Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Punjab, Arunachal Pradesh and Karnataka are among the top honey producing states.

There is vast potential for beekeeping in the country and India is one of the major exporting countries of natural honey. According to APEDA export report-2012, India ranks at number 8, exporting around 25,000 metric tonnes of honey to countries like US, Germany, Japan, France and Saudi Arabia, earning revenue of 66.8 million USD. India’s honey exports contribute to around 4 per cent of the world exports. (Fig 1) .

Fig. 1: Top 10 natural honey exporting country
Fig. 1: Top 10 natural honey exporting country

According to APEDA, the honey exports have registered a growth of 11 per cent during 2012-13 and have the potential to grow at 20 per cent annually if the quality controls are maintained and the resource potentials are exploited.

Dr V Sivaram, Associate Professor, Department of Botany, Bangalore University, in his report, ‘Status, prospects and strategies for development of organic beekeeping in South Asian countries’, 2012, published in Apiservices, the beekeeping portal, notes that, lack of knowledge of scientific beekeeping management practices, shortage of trained and qualified manpower, lack of coordination between beekeeping R & D organisations /universities in South Asia, insufficient man power for multiplication and distribution of bee colonies, are the main constraints of beekeeping industry.

Dr T P Rajendran, Assistant Director General (Plant Protection), Indian Council of Agricultural Research, also a member of the National Bee Board said, “the Board is undertaking training programmes to bridge the knowledge gap, handle diseases and pests and also persuading the farmers to use pesticides that are less harmful to bees at recommended concentrations.”

To have a sustainable livelihood through beekeeping, Sivaram recommends capacity building and awareness programmes, preparation of extensive floral calendars for different ecological zones, encouragement for migratory beekeeping practices for higher honey production and organising regular honey festivals, seminars and conferences to create awareness among farmers, beekeepers and honey traders.

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