Over one lakh beekeepers in Kerala are hoping apiculture can unleash economic benefits for all…
Honey is the main produce from beehives in Kerala. The per capita consumption of Kerala is 8.5 gm per year while in the European countries it is 5 kg to 10 kg. Annual honey production touches about 8,000 tonnes in the state. In recent times, unemployed youth, women and self-help groups in large numbers are coming forward to take up a calling which they believe can improve the quality of their lives by enhancing livelihoods and also achieving women’s empowerment.
Leading Players in the Honey Business
- The Federation of Indigenous Apiculturists (FIA), the organisation of beekeepers in Kerala
- Golden Bee box Industries and Bee farm (Kasaragod)
- Mellifera Beekeeping Society (Kasaragod)
- Kasaragod Rural Development Society
- Matha Honey and Bee Farm Industries (Kasaragod)
- Malabar Honey and Food Park Ltd (Kannur)
- Bharat Beekeeping Centre (Thrissur)
- Golden Bee Farm (Kottayam)
- Malanadu Development Society (Kottayam)
- Bodhana (Pathanamthitta)
- RSG Beekeeping and Training Centre (Kollam)
- Perumkadavila Beekeepers Society (Thiruvananthapuram)
- John’s Bee Valley and Anthuriums (Thiruvananthapuram)
The importance of using honey as a food item by all sections of consumers has always been highlighted by nutritionists. Honey contains sugars that are quickly absorbed by the digestive system and converted into energy, and its function as an instant energiser is the dominant pitch.
Honey has been being used for centuries to treat a wide range of ailments owing to the presence of antioxidants in it. With its inbuilt anti-bacterial, antiviral, anti-fungal, anti-cancer properties, it is akin to a medicinal product. Also, as it is hygroscopic, it speeds up healing, cures wounds, and boosts tissue repair.
Honey has anti-bacterial properties owing to its acidic nature and enzymically-produced hydrogenperoxide. As many nutritionists vouch, regular consumption of honey strengthens the white blood corpuscles to fight bacteria and viral diseases and improves immunity.
Kerala has a rich and diversified flora and fauna to attract honeybees for pollen and nectar. Kalpavriksha, the coconut palm, (cocos nucifera) is the ever-showering source of pollen to bees, and is being grown in an area of 9.05 lakh hectares.
Professor on Honey Bees & Pollinators, College of Agriculture, Thiruvananthapuram, S Devanesan, notes that a single inflorescence provides 272 million pollen grains and 12-16 inflorescence bloom in a healthy palm every year.
“Coconut palm provides pollen throughout the year and hence there is no scarcity of pollen to bees. Moreover, rubber (havea brasiliensis), produces the maximum quantity of nectar per plant from its extra floral nectaries from January to April. The rubber plantations spread over more than 5.5 lakh hectares in Kerala and offer immense potential for beekeeping in the state,” he says.
“Considering the availability of floral sources, there is ample scope for rearing around 55 lakh Indian bee colonies in the rubber estates alone. But there are only about eight lakh Indian bee colonies at present. There is scope for rearing 47 lakh colonies additionally. In addition to this cultivated crops, an area of 1,081,509 hectares is under forestry, which can provide nectar/pollen to bees,” he adds.
S Devanesan is also the Principal Scientist of the Central Government’s All India Coordinated Research Project (AICRP).
The Indian Council of Agricultural Research, New Delhi, has initiated the network project AICRP on Honey Bees and Pollinators under the Kerala Agricultural University for research and development on apiculture.
The Centre has developed advance scientific apiculture technologies and the adoption of these technologies by the beekeepers has resulted in the enhancement of yield to an average of 10 kg to 15 kg by exploiting use of more than one honey chamber at the time of honey flow.
Kerala has four species of true honey bees:
- Rock Bee (Apis dorsata)
- Little Bee (Apis florea)
- Indian bee (Apis cerana indica)
- Italian bee (Apis mellifera).
- Another promising species, the stingless bee Tetragonula (Trigona) iridipennis Smith, is also being currently commercialised in the state.
In view of the nutritive and medicinal values of honey, manufacturers and marketers in India are pushing consumers to make it an integral part of daily diet. Th is can be made possible by value addition of honey to base products such as breads or confectionery as a ‘topping’ to imbibe its benefits. On a national scale, FMCG giants such as Dabur.
Food are actively positioning honey as a versatile food product that can be consumed in multiple ways. From being an externally-applied skin moisturiser to being consumed in beverages as a weight-loss ally, the product’s benefits are many and are being used by Dabur as marketing planks.
On a macro level, the Central Government has already standardised the technology for the preparation of diversified honey-based products, including beverages, cakes, jams, breads, vines, vinegar, dry fruits, soaps etc.
Diversification & Marketing
The industry of apiculture itself offers many opportunities for extension and diversification. There exists immense scope for production and marketing of other bee products such as pollen, propolis, royal jelly, bee wax and bee venom. Besides, sale of bee packages and rearing and sale of pedigree queen bees also offers tremendous scope.
Honey bees can also be managed as and when required for pollination of field and horticultural crops and for hybrid seed production in vegetables and other bee pollinated crops. Th us, renting out bee colonies for pollination can also be another source of revenue for beekeepers.
Boosting colony productivity by adopting apicultural diversification will help in making beekeeping internationally competitive and also pave the way for the country to enter global markets with other bee products too, thus enhancing the economic status of beekeepers.
Apart from generating direct employment for the beekeepers, such ventures would create a need for good artisans, hive manufacturers, apicultural equipment and machinery manufacturers, transport systems for irrigation of colonies, traders, product quality experts, packers, sellers, raw material dealers etc. and allied industries.
This industry has, so far, remained quite insular and offers tremendous scope. Technologies for the production of different products, including royal jelly, bees wax, pollen, propolis, bee venom, queen bees, package bees etc. are now available in India. Kashmir Apiaries and Kejriwal groups are the leading honey exporters in India.
Despite its promise, exports from Kerala, however, are minimal. But with neighbouring states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh being major customers of made-in-Kerala honey, domestic trade continues to flourish, essentially for the product’s use in Ayurvedic preparations.
The mandates of AICRP on honey bees and pollinators of Kerala Agricultural University advise research and development on apiculture, while also standardising techniques for commercial apiculture and meliponiculture, for the larger objective of exploiting the state’s potential for beekeeping in the state.
Kerala Agricultural University (KAU) is also involved in dissemination of technologies by imparting Beekeepers Orientation Training to beginners in beekeeping. The institution also offers refresher training to beekeepers.