For the small farmer, beekeeping is the new buzzword, as honey presents itself as an alternative source of income
A taste of honey
BANI Prasad Yadav, 52, a marginal farmer from Patiasa village, 15 km from Muzaffarpur in Bihar, today literally enjoys the sweet smell of success. Four years ago, he began beekeeping, helped by the Vaishali-based ngo, Bibipur Small Farmers and Resourceless Communities' Association (basfarca). Till then, he had been barely subsisting on rice, wheat and millet he cultivated on 1 acre of land. Now, he extracts about 500 kg honey each season from 40 bee colonies. He has built himself a pucca house and married his daughter off to a rich farmer.
"Beekeeping is an easy profession for poor and illiterate farmers because it does not require any major investment or skill," says Ram Chandra Prasad, basfarca president.
Aided by the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC), the association trains about 1,000 farmers. "Through our network of state and regional offices and district khadi industries boards, we extend all possible technical, financial and marketing help to individuals, ngos and cooperative societies and federations. Our emphasis, however, is on the individual, because our aim is to provide him direct employment," says Jaidev, assistant director of the kvic, New Delhi.
With a 50 per cent subsidy, a beehive box costs Rs 800 and a honey extractor Rs 2,000. The Grewal Gram Udyog Samiti of Ludhiana manufactures and markets a battery-operated smoker, which paralyses bees during the honey extraction. Udyog Bhartia in New Delhi has developed a solar wax extractor for areas without electricity.
To solve problems of marketing honey, the kvic helps establish beekeepers' federations. The Punjab State Beekeepers' Federation (PSBF), with its 15 field stations, helps market bee products at remunerative rates. "We fix the price at the beginning of the season so that the producer is saved from any fluctuation in price later," informs Darshan Singh Rai, psbf secretary.
The kvic's Central Bee Research and Training Institute, Pune, offers long-term courses for biology, agriculture and forestry graduates, and short-term courses for farmers and hobbyists. The Punjab Agriculture University, Ludhiana, trains professional beekeepers. The Y S Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry at Solan offers a Masters in Sciences in entomology with beekeeping as the specialisation.
But low productivity marks India's honey production, which is confined largely to the unorganised and cottage sector. "There exists a tremendous honey production potential in India, but due to lack of a clear policy and coordination among various government agencies, we have only 0.6 per cent of world's honey production," laments V Sivaram, a botanist from the University of Bangalore.
However, the government's recent decision to establish a honey board brings hope. "This board will establish a network of ministries, research institutions, industries -- including the kvic -- and ngos that will suggest short- and long-term measures to improve bee stock, raise productivity and improve crop variety through cross pollination," says A K Rana, additional commissioner, National Horticulture Board. It organised the First All India Honey Festival from October 28-30, where individuals and institutes interacted freely.
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