Like bees to flowers, Bharatpur takes to apiculture

Updated on: Jan 02, 2015




Landless and marginal farmers turn beekeepers in this leading centre for honey production

Go closer to the lush golden fields that extend as far as the eye can see and you realise what makes Rajasthan’s Bharatpur district buzz. The fields in this leading mustard-producing district are flooded with the iconic yellow flower, with hundreds of bees hovering over the petals. Yes, this region is the second-largest producer of honey in the country, generating 1,200 tonnes annually from 3,200 beekeepers, most of them young with none or marginal land holdings.

While beekeeping as an agri-based livelihood requires low inputs and yields high profits, it requires training and the willingness to migrate to cooler climes in search of other crops and plantations in the summer months.

For the farmer, the expansion of apiculture (honeybees carrying out cross-pollination of yellow mustard flowers) has more than one advantage — it helps in increasing the crop yield by as much as 20 to 25 per cent and the entire family can get into the beekeeping business. However, this was not what farmers believed in the late 1990s when beekeeping was introduced in the region. It was the brainchild of Lupin Human Welfare & Research Foundation when it went in search of non-farm occupations for rural India.

“We chose Bharatpur district for development as it was equidistant from Delhi as well as the State capital Jaipur,” says Sita Ram Gupta, the Executive Director who joined the project way back in 1989. An initiative of pharmaceutical major Lupin’s Chairman Dr Desh Bandhu Gupta to give back to society, the Foundation, he recalls, negotiated social and political hiccups in the various livelihood programmes it started, seeing success in many and failure in some.

Beekeeping has grown to be the flagship project of the organisation. A model unit of apiculture generally comprises 50 bee-boxes and certain accessories. These are placed in agricultural fields near crops that are flowering. Each honeybee covers a distance of 2-3 km to collect nectar from the flowers. When the beehives inside the bee-boxes become full with honey, they are processed by a simple machine that helps collect both honey and wax. “At first, farmers were wary, believing that it will harm the crop. Decades later they have realised that not only has it given them better yields from their mustard crop, but also jobs for the youth and an extra income,” explains Bhim Singh, additional chief project co-ordinator.

Some have taken to beekeeping like bees to flowers. Says Hardiyal Singh, from Nagla Kalyan village, one of those who started with eight boxes of bees and today has 1,800 boxes, two vehicles for travelling around the country and a formidable reputation. “I was a para teacher who did not enjoy what I was doing. Beekeeping came as a great opportunity. I roped in my brothers as well and now all three of us do nothing else. We are selling honey at ₹125 a kg today and supply to a successful local exporter, who was once a beekeeper too.”

While Hardiyal and his brothers own vehicles, another 30 to 40 smaller beekeepers in the village, like Dalchand, use public transport but earn as much as ₹6 lakh annually. “I have just 250 boxes and payments are seasonal, but it gets me enough to feed my family and send my three daughters to school. I also have a small land holding that my wife Saraswati looks after in my absence,” he says. While mustard yields honey for Dalchand from October to November, he moves to Kota district in March, April to allow his bees to hover around the dhania plant, followed by eucalyptus in Budaun, Uttar Pradesh during August and September, and back home to mustard for the rest of the year.

“In Bharatpur district, 23 per cent belong to Scheduled Castes and 12 per cent to the Meo community. Many of them are totally marginalised, so non-farm incomes are important in this region,” says Sita Ram. The Lupin foundation identifies need-based programmes and through its village representatives ensures that the village community and the State administration add to the funding allocated by Lupin. Its livelihood projects include gem cutting and polishing, stone handicrafts, mudda making, bangle kilns among others. Its location-specific occupations include fisheries, chauraha development, backyard poultry, dairy development, floriculture, vegetable farming and of course beekeeping, which has seen immense success.

Today the region is an export hub for honey, thanks to farsighted beekeeper-turned-top exporter Vinit Singh, who runs the Brij honey processing plant here. It also has companies such as Zandu, Dabur and Khadi and Village Industries flocking to it for raw material. This sure is a sweet sign for the district, with the potential to get sweeter in the future.

The writer visited the district at the invitation of Lupin Foundation

Published on March 10, 2018

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