Monday , 25 June 2018

Honey fetches sweet returns for farmers

Mhov is the new money spinner for handful of local farmers who have ventured into honey production, discovers Shoma Patnaik

It is sweet profits for some of Goan farmers who have taken to rearing of bees for commercial sale of honey.

Few years back not many farmers in Goa were interested in planned bee-keeping. Bee hives were plenty in farms and forested areas but fear of the Ganjil Mus kept organized bee-keeping at bay. Today the buzz is around the occupation of apiculture. With soaring prices farmers are alert to the possibility of rich returns from honey.

Ground level check reveals that handful of farmers that are into professional bee-keeping are facing sweet success. They are encouraging others to venture into a sunrise sector that is both remunerative as well as environmentally friendly. And bee rearing in a specialized manner could be the next big trend among farmers in Goa.

The Nanu Plantation in Sulcorna, owned by the Naik family, probably keeps the most successful apiary. The farm started keeping bees in 2015 and currently maintains 15 bee-boxes that collectively yield about 120 kgs of honey. Plans are to increase the number of bee-boxes to 40 in the new season (post monsoons) and substantially increase honey output.

Dinesh Prayag, general manager at the farm says that, the income earned from honey makes it fruitful in all ways. “It supplements our profits and bees serve the purpose of pollinating our mango, coconut and areca nut trees,” he says. Prayag adds that, the honey collected is sold for about Rs 500-Rs 600 per kg to local residents. “In many Goan farms the going rate is about Rs 850- Rs 1,000 per kg,’ he says.

Prayag points out that, there is growing interest about bee-keeping among other farmers. “By next year at least 150 more Goans will take up this activity,” he prophecies, as several of them have placed orders for bee-boxes with him.

Near to the Nanu Plantation is the Don Bosco Farm where bee-keeping is carried out with great enthusiasm by students. The Don Bosco Farm produces about 18 kgs of honey from eight bee-boxes kept on the premises.

According to P Shaliyo, apiculturist, there are about 17 known bee-keepers in Goa who collectively produced close to 500 kgs of honey annually. Farmers who are into it are of all kinds. Large producers are farmers like Nanu Plantations, Chinmaya Tansilkar, Neturlim, Suprajit Raikar, Rajendra Naik, Mollrm while medium-sized producers are individuals like Dias Farm, Dharbandora, Melvin De Souza, Carasawada, Peter, Assagaon, among others.

Talking to some of them is interesting. “Bee-keeping,” says Melvin De Souza, Carasawada, “is not too laborious and not even capital intensive.” But it needs to be mastered through proper courses taught by experts. D’Souza himself attended the bee-keeping course at ICAR, Old Goa and continues to keep abreast of latest practices. He keeps three bee-boxes and is assisted by his wife Carmen. In his old, traditional house close to the highway, the couple rear bees in the balcao and garden and charge handsome price of close to Rs 1,000 per kg to nearby residents. Honey combs are also edible and in demand from foreign tourists. D’Souza sells the combs to five-star hotels for Rs 800 for a 300 gram comb.

Tribes living like hinterland are traditional collectors of honey. Suprajit Raikar, founder, Raika Honey, works with NGOs that provide bee-boxes to tribals and later purchase the honey from them. “Tribal people are natural collectors of honey and can be taught to take up apiculture,” says Raikar. He adds that, honey is purchased from the tribals at around Rs 400 per kg and sold in the market at about RS 850 per kg. “The Raika brand is also sold online,” he reveals.

Bee-keeping as an occupation is extremely environment friendly. It helps in increasing the yield of fruit bearing trees and needs to be encouraged.

“Bee keeping can easily be taken up in urban areas,’ says Shaliyo. He says that, surrounding the  Pundalik Nagar Park in Porvorim, there are several Terminalia Bellarica trees which are the habitat of bees. The presence or ornamental plants, coconut trees in Porvorim locality is encouraging to bee-keeping, he says. “Goa’s honey production can easily increase to five to six ton annually if bee-keeping is boosted,” says Shaliyo.

Meanwhile government effort to boost honey production is lack luster. There are schemes in place but few farmers have availed of the schemes. “The agriculture department does not have trained staff to give advice on bee-rearing,” say apiarists.

They point out that in 2013  an initiative was launched to promote bee-keeping by the government. Officials distributed a non-native species- Apis Mellifera- an European dark bee that produces rich honey. However the non local species did not survive and the bee-keeping project was a flop.

Mass scale promotion of bee-keeping is very much feasible in Goa, according to experts. The activity does not require much space or labour. The local practice of burning foliage for cultivation as well as cutting down of trees is a major threat to bee-keeping and needs to be stopped.

As such bee-rearing is a seasonal activity. Peak months of production are November to May, viz. during the flowering season. The monsoons are resting period and bees need to be keapt alive by providing feed.  “Bees help trees to live,” says D’Souza. Farmers need to learn bee-keeping to take it up successfully and the returns are extremely satisfying in all ways,” he says.


Goa abounds in bee species

Goa’s natural vegetation is rich in different species of honey bees. Of the various varieties, Apis Dorsata, Apis Cerana Indica and Apis Florea are the three main species that are found in abundance.  The Apis Dorsata commonly known as the Rock Bee is the one we all know and fear. It makes huge hives in tall buildings, balcony crevices and in secret, undisturbed places. It is big in size, migratory in nature and ferocious. The Apis Florea, on the other hand, is a small, wild bee that sits on fruits. It makes nests on slender branches of trees and is found in wild conditions. Both Apis Dorsata and Florea are vital honey producers and pollinators of crops and wild plants but they are not conducive for domesticated breeding.

Comparatively the specie Apis Cerana Indica is most adaptable. It is non-aggressive and ideal for bee-keeping. Locally the Cerana Indica is known as Satpodem or Sathodem for its penchant for making seven pods, dhad or combs in a natural bee hive. All apiarists in Goa, like their counterparts in other states, use the Cerana Indica to make bee colonies and produce honey.

Apiarists breed bee hives in special bee boxes. The boxes have to be kept in protected places. They can be placed in the open garden but must be safeguarded against ant, cockroach attacks, etc. They must also not be exposed to strong sunlight or fire and strong wind or floods. Each box yields about eight kgs of honey in proper conditions.

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