Beekeeping- as an Enterprise in Kashmir

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Bee keeping or (apiculture) is one of the subsectors of this big sector of Kashmir economy and its potential as economic activity and its positive impact on both horticulture and agriculture production makes it more significant than other subsectors. Its varied and multifarious products include honey besides other products like beeswax, propolis, bee venom and royal jelly. All these products have a number of ‘forward and backward’ economic linkages. Even more significant utility of bee keeping is that it pollinates crops and thus contributes to overall production and crop quality.

Kashmir is witnessing a decline in the yield of apple crop due to inadequate pollination management practices. The reduction and/or loss of pollinators and lack of pollinizers in apple orchards effect the qualitative production and productivity. It is also surprising that less emphasis on pollination management research has been given because of non-availability of trained personal and partly because many are ignorant about the importance of pollination management in enhancing the production and productivity of apple crop.

Bee keeping has remained a tradition in rural areas and forest area population and learnt by people from generation to generation. It neither requires high technology nor capital investment or comprehensive infrastructure. But producing bees for sale has become a new phenomenon as country wide thrust is on good combination of best practices so that even with less water and less cost productivity can be increased.In Kashmir valley the bee keeping sector has got a big push with efforts put in by scientists and staff in this field at SKUAST-Kashmir. In the SKUAST-KashmirResearch and Training Centre for Pollinators, Pollinizers, and Pollination Management (Pollination Centre) has worked days in and days out and was able to earn the University a mega project worth crore’s under National Bee Board titled “Integrated Bee keeping Development Centre (IBDC) and Centre of Excellence (COE) in Bee Keeping. The said Project is funded by National Bee Board, Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, Government of India.

The tag line of this mega project is to disseminate a way to scientific beekeeping. Under this Project the Centre provides Scientific Bee Keeping training and awareness to bee keepers, unemployed youth, Tribal Farmers (Men and Women), Fruit Growers etc. The main mile stones of the project is to establish bee disease diagnostic laboratory, Bee floral garden, Bee Hive and other Hive tool manufacturing unit and Honey testing facilities to test purity of honey. This also provides stock of Apis cerana queens to Bee keepers, unemployed youth for Scientific Bee Keeping purposes so as to build strong disease free colonies. Means all the modern and scientific facilities regarding beekeeping under a single roof.

Not only that, Pollination Centre acts like a bridge between the  Bee Keepers, unemployed youth who can provide their colonies on rent basis as a tool of Pollination service to farmers/ orchardists during bloom period of apple and other temperate fruit crops and get sizeable income in addition to the Honey and other Bee products.

With its abundant scenic beauty and climatic condition and horticulture as VSP of its economy, Bee keeping has very promising prospects in Kashmir.These bees besides production of honey and other things can help farmers pollinate their crops increasing both quality and quantity. These help in having fruits with adequate seed quantity within.Keeping in view this potential Bee keeping can become a key to revolutionize horticulture sector in the state. It has immense potential to provide employment avenues in the state confronted with huge challenge of unemployment of youth. Attention needs to be given and awareness needs to be created about this environment friendly economic activity with so tremendous potential.The activity needs to be integrated with the initiative of State Govt. to double the horticulture production within a decade. It can be also linked to implementation of the pronounced goal of Union Govt. to double the income of farmers by 2022.

Unemployment has been a pressing problem in Kashmir and it has only aggravated the political turmoil in the state. Every year the number of educated youth in the Valley witnesses an increase and with them swells the problem of unemployment. These educated but unemployed youth stay jobless because the government jobs are very few and the private sector is almost non-existent in the Valley.In such a grim scenario, beekeeping can be a vibrant source of employment in Jammu and Kashmir.

Kashmir- A State which constitutes one of the most important beekeeping zones in India, has a history of beekeeping.Kashmir not only fulfils the prerequisites (availability of raw material, skilled labour and consumer demand of the product) for the honey industry but scientists associated with apiculture here believe that if the policy-makers focus on this sector, the problem of unemployment in the state can be tackled to a larger extent. As per opinion of experts it includes the area under cereals and other crops that are self-pollinated or wind pollinated, there are about two Lakh hectares of land under oil seeds and horticulture crops in Jammu and Kashmir.

Taking into account recommendations of National Commission on Agriculture to have modest number of three bee colonies per hectare, Jammu and Kashmir needs about 6,00,000  colonies, against this demand, and the state has only few thousand colonies at present. If the government supports the industry, a tentative calculation done by the scientists at SKUAST-Shalimar believes that 6, 00,000 honey bee colonies, at an average of 18 -20 kilograms per colony during spring can produce 45,000 tons of honey annually.This will fetch about Rs 6.75 billion annually at a modest rate of Rs 150 per kilogram. Besides producing large quantities of bee wax used in the manufacture of more than 300 items and is on high demand. Experts opine that if 20 colonies are allotted to each unemployed youth, it will generate employment opportunities for 1, 25,000 persons.

For fabricating 6 Lakh bee colonies at 50 hives per artisan per year, it will require 50,000 artisan days. If the plan as suggested by SKUAST-K experts for honey industry is implemented in Jammu and Kashmir, a need will also arise for about 460 honey houses units,where honey will be tested, processed, bottled, stored and marketed. Each honey house Unitcan handle about 20 tons of production and can provide permanent employment to 150 persons. Fabrication of apiary applications like bee veils, gloves, smokers, queen excluders, honey extractors, solar wax extractors, etc. it will also guaranty employment to many a large number of unemployed people. In addition to the direct avenues adequate bee activity would help in improving crop yields by nearly 100 per cent.

Giving estimates of year 2000 and 2001, the scientistssay that there were 15,000 colonies in modern hives with annual honey production for 200 tons valued at Rs 5 million providing subsistence to 168 full time and 359 part time beekeepers in the valley.Not only the direct employment can be provided by the honey industry but the farmers associated with different sectors can yield better dividends of the industry. Jammu and Kashmir State’s economy is dependent on agriculture and the honey bees play a vital role in pollination of agricultural and horticultural crops. Scientists say that the main significance of honey bees is in pollination whereas hive products such as honey, bees wax etc. are of secondary value. This is evident from the fact that income from agriculture by use of honey bees in crop pollination to exploit the yield potential of crops is 15-20 limes greater than their value as honey and wax producers.

Research finding have amply proved that apple, Cole-crops, mustard and alfalfa production can be increased by 180 to 695, 100 to 300, 13 to 222 and 23to 1973 per cent respectively by providing optimum number of honey bee colonies as pollinators. SKUAST-Shalimar findings have shown that almond production can be increased from 33-47 per cent by providing adequate number of pollinizers /Pollinators.

In 2005-06, Kashmir honey industry suffered a huge jolt with 26000 bee colonies being killed by the parasitic mite (Varroa destructor) which had assumed epidemic proportions. Experts at SKAUST- Shalimar had revealed that the bee colonies were treated with formic acid which is already found as a natural ingredient in honey and is not a public health concern. This parasite attacked Apis meliferabees and wiped out its over 70 per cent stock resulting reduction into pollination efficiency worth millions of rupees and reduced honey production worth crore’s of rupees.The SKUAST-K has evolved disease investigation facilities in apiculture and thus paved the way for safe upkeep of apiculture in the state. However warn of a disaster of a larger magnitude to the agriculture/horticulture sector including the apiculture,because of the indiscriminate use of pesticides.

(The author is a Researcher at ‘Research & Training Centre for Pollinators, Pollinizers and Pollination Management (Division of Entomology)’, SKUAST-K Shalimar Srinagar)

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