India Interior

The bee masters are back

Sudhirendar Sharma | Updated on March 10, 2018

Land of honey Volunteers of Save Honey Bee Campaign explain the value of the insect at a camp in the Western Ghats region SUDHIRENDAR SHARMA

The culture of domesticating honeybees is being revived in the Western Ghats

Much before the Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a term coined by commercial beekeepers in 2006, had wiped out some 40 per cent of the honeybee colonies in the US, the invasion by the Thai Sac Brood (TSB) virus in 1978 had led to a huge loss in the bee population in many parts of India. It affected the fledgling small-scale beekeeping sector in the Western Ghats region in Karnataka, which had until 1985 produced the highest quantity — an estimated 7.5 lakh kg — of honey in the country.

The TSB invasion had eroded beekeepers’ confidence to such an extent that many turned away from the vocation for good. The once-conducive environment and the expansive availability of flora in the Western Ghats had prompted the setting up of one of the country’s earliest beekeepers’ cooperative society at Honavar taluk of Uttar Kannada district in 1941.

But after the TSB attack, Venkatappa Naik of Honavar was left with just two beehives out of the 40 he had earlier. The biggest honey producer in Asia at one time, Suresh Chengappa in Coorg could never recover after losing his 800 beehives. It has been reported that as much as 95 per cent of the beehive population was affected across the country. The worst impact was on the locally suited Asiatic honeybee called Apis cerena indica.

“While Europe had resorted to creating ‘flowering recovery zones’ to restore the bee population, we brought beekeeping back into the popular imagination through exposure and training,” says Pandurang Hegde, who has spearheaded the Save Honey Bee Campaign in the Western Ghats since the late 1990s. Each year, during the honey harvesting period from April to June, several camps are organised across the region for people to appreciate the value of honeybees in their lives.

The results are impressive. At last count, nearly 500 beekeepers had re-established their bee colonies, and the number is growing. Part of the credit goes to Dharmendra Mashigadde, in Sirsi, who took up the challenge of scouting for the virus-resistant red strain of the Asiatic honeybee, and introduced it into the region. It has paid dividends in reviving the culture of domesticating honeybees in the region, which holds a cultural significance for the farmers here.

The Save Honey Bee Campaign has demonstrated that while the problem may be complex, it is not altogether impenetrable. Einstein’s prophetic words, “If the bee disappears from the surface of the Earth, man would have no more than four years to live” certainly rings true. The campaign’s volunteers have replaced the erstwhile Jenu Master (Bee Master), who used to go from house to house to assist beekeepers in keeping their beehives healthy.

The writer reports on development issues

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Published on April 07, 2017
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