Big Bee Business

Many unemployed youth are finding a promising future in beekeeping which is coming up as a prospective small-scale business avenue in unemployment ridden Kashmir, Syed Asma reports.

Bee keeping

Four educated young men after unsuccessfully trying for different jobs wanted to start something that would make them financially independent. They formed a group and decided to rear bees. “Initially, a friend who was already in this business helped us. We borrowed some bee colonies from him and he gave us some valuable tips to start with,” says Imran, a young beekeeper from Budgam and one of the group members.

Today they own about 95 bee colonies and extract about 1000 kgs of honey and they take home about Rs 90,000 a season. “Presently, we do not generate much profit because we have a lot of expenses like migration patterns of bees, their feeding etc. That exercise also takes a lot of money,” says Imran. “We are not yet good managers in this trade”.

Budgam,in the last season,reportedly produced more than 18 tonnes of honey generating an income of Rs 27 lakhs.

These young men who are new in this business have big aspirations. “This sub-sector offers excellent income and employment generation for thousands of youth in Kashmir”, says Firdous Ganaie, Agribusiness Consultant, Mercy Corps Kashmir.

Mercy Corps, a US based NGOhas undertaken a project “Bees for Business” in Kashmir. In this project they offer training to young business aspirants in beekeeping. “The focus is on increasing technical and business capacity of these youth beekeepers along the honey market chain in the region,”Firdous adds.

Most of the beekeepers in Kashmir have started this business independently without any government aid. Though, government claims to have few centrally sponsored schemes to help interested youth get into honeybee business. One of the schemes is Rashritya Krishi Vikas Yojna (RKVY) under which government provides some required tools and equipment’s to an unemployed person if he or she feels interested in getting into beekeeping.

Like Imran, Suhail from Ganderbal too has joined his friends and has decided to make a living from beekeeping. Suhail has passed his higher secondary final examinations recently and is now looking after his father’s 20-year-old business of beekeeping. Among his partners, two are graduates and one is a post-graduate.

Suhail presently owns 100 colonies and manages to get 50 tins of honey every season. Each tin carries 25 kgs of honey. “We had double the number of these colonies but the drought in 2005 ruined it all. About 50% of our colonies were eaten up by the mites. The production was disturbed immensely,” he says.

Ishfaq, 25,also runs his father’s already established beekeeping business. He believes this business can fetch a good amount of profit. “If all goes smooth, one can easily make a profit of one lakh rupeesa year,” says Ishfaq Ahmed Wadoo. “And that is really good.”

Ishfaq presently owns 125 colonies reared from 40 colonies which survived the 2005 drought.Earlier he owned 175 colonies.

“But at times we face a great loss if the weather is not favourable or when our colonies are infested with some disease,” says Ishfaq.“These bad times only take investment from us and give back nothing.”

Kashmir valley provides favourable conditions for bee rearing. Ten districts in the valley are contributing in the honey production. About 15000 -16000 colonies, all privately owned, are registered with the government at present. Government itself owns about 200 colonies. “We (the apiculture department) do not expand this industry at a large scale because it asks for a large capital and we presently cannot manage that,” says Abdul Rashid Samoon, Apiculture Development Officer.

The government-run bee colonies are not only for rearing for bees but are also meant for the demonstration purposes. They are called “Beekeeping demonstration cum training centres”.

“These centres are used to train youth who feel interested in carrying this (bee keeping) as their occupation,”Samoon says.

Many trainers apart from rearing bees at these demonstration centres also have their privately owned colonies. Fayaz, an employee in the Apiculture department owns 60 colonies. “I can’t rear more than 60 colonies because of my professional liabilities,” says Fayaz.

Bees need nectar or sugar to survive. In Kashmir, Kikar and Shole posh (Tulsi) are the common source of their food. “Kikar plant is the main source of our bees to suck nectar from. In off season, we move to jungles to feed these colonies and prevent them from starvation,” says Ishfaq.

Winter is not good for this business so the beekeepers have to migrate to warmer regions to keep their colonies alive.

The beekeepers from Kashmir usually move to Gurez, Uri, Jammu, Punjab, Jharkhand or even travel to Rajasthan to protecttheir colonies from cold weather.
“The cost of travel from Srinagar to Jammu is nearly Rs 35,000 and that to Rajasthan is Rs 60,000,” says Ishfaq.

Besides cold weather, untimely rains, storms and winds have the tendency to destroy the bee crop and affect the production of honey.

“It is a delicate business which is affected by the bad weather as well as by different types of diseases. In 2005 about 90% of the bee crop was destroyed by the disease caused by a mite called ‘Vorra’,” says Suhail. “The medicine for treating this disease was not available in our markets. We had to purchase it from Jharkhand”.

Many beekeepers believe they were cheated while purchasing the medicine but they did not have any other optionas the medicines were unavailable in Kashmir. “sixty litres of oxalic acid then cost Rs 120 but we had to purchase it at the price of Rs 175 per litres plus the expenses of the travel to reach Jharkhand. Had the government paid a little attention, our expenses could have lowered,” asserts Imran.

Dr. PawanjitSingh, a veterinarian and a beekeeper, believes the situation would not have been like this had the beekeepers handled the disease and the colonies properly. “Our lack of awareness and exposure made us suffer. Otherwise, it was not difficult to handle the disease. At least we would have been able to control the loss,” he says.

Another tip that the doctor shares is that people should learn how to increase the production of honey rather than only increase the number of bees.
Apart from producing honey, these bee colonies help in increasing the fruit production both qualitatively and quantitatively. “Honey bees are the best pollinators in the world. These can increase the fruit production by 15-20%,” says Dr. Manzoor Ahmed Parray, Assistant Professor,Entomology, at SKAUST in Kashmir.

In India and in the rest of the world the bee colonies are hired by the orchard owners to yield more fruit production. “In Kashmir, only 1 to 2% of people hire these colonies to increase the fruit production. Ideally each hectare of the orchard in the blooming season should have 3 bee colonies. One hundred trees should have 33 pollinators,”the professor highlighted.

The Kashmir valley produced nearly 300 tonnes of honey last year. The honey produced in Kashmir is of superior quality. “The low moisture content of the honey producedhere makes it superior, special and most sellable,” says Dr. Manzoor.

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