‘Lockdown Has Broken the Backbone of J&K’s Beekeeping Industry’

‘The condition is so worse that beekeepers are selling honeybee box with bees at Rs. 800-1100 despite the market price being Rs 5000’

WHEN Acacia flowers withered in Pulwama’s Khrew area this summer, Bilal Ahmad Pir decided to migrate the bee colonies to north Kashmir’s Bandipora district.

But the fear of COVID and the long process to get clearance has left the beekeeper stationed at Khrew with no nectar and pollen to feed the bees.

Since June 1, Pir is struggling to feed the bees, as no natural source of food is available for them.

“We are giving them sugar every week since the acacia flowers withered,” says the apiarist.

Pir was lucky to reach Kashmir when Acacia flowers were blooming, unlike other apiarists who were stuck in other states due to the coronavirus lockdown.

From November to December he stayed in Rajasthan and then he moved to Pathankot. When he started migrating to Kashmir in mid-April, he was faced with the heat of the lockdown.

“Only one person was allowed inside the vehicle,” says Pir, adding, “how can one person handle all the colonies by himself?”

It was a tall task but he managed to reach Kashmir on time when Acacian flowers were blossoming.

The apiarists migrate to different places with their bee colonies in search of blossoms and to provide a suitable environment for the bees to thrive.

The migratory beekeepers traditionally move outside Jammu and Kashmir to states like Rajasthan and Punjab, in December every year and return in March-April to Jammu before moving to Kashmir in the last week of April.

No Honey Takers

The demand is less this year as compared to last year, complains Pir who has been working as an apiarist for 15 years.

While Pir was able to sell honey to locals in Khrew, he incurred a huge loss in Pampore, where he did not get any customers this time.

“When the market is closed, how will we earn?” questions the apiarist.

Like Pir, Muhammad Yaseen Bhat, a beekeeper based at Kathsoo, Anantnag, has incurred huge losses during the lockdown.

“I used to sell 1-kg honey at Rs. 500 and earn around 4-5 lacs per year,” Bhat says, “but this year there is no customer.”

While the quantity of honey produced by Bhat is better than the previous year but with no customers, his business has come to a standstill.

Jammu and Kashmir constitute one of the most important beekeeping zones. It provides suitable climatic conditions and exceptionally long season during which pollen and nectar is available in one or the other parts of the region.

Migration is a very important aspect of commercial beekeeping. According to a study done by researchers, “the migratory system of bee-keeping is more economical than the stationary bee-keeping system as it not only helps in boosting income of the individual bee-keeper but also helps in increasing productivity of cross-pollinated crops and generates employment.”

According to the National Bee Board report 2019, J&K has 22,340 bee colonies. The lockdown has affected thousands of people who have been linked to the honey trade directly or indirectly.

Lockdown Sting

“Almost 2 out of 5 beekeepers either ended up with no bees or had to auction them at 1/5th of their market price because they were left with no money to sustain honey bee farming during this lockdown,” says Balvinder Singh, a beekeeper from Doda.

He says that the condition is so worse that beekeepers are selling honeybee box with bees at Rs. 800-1100 despite the market price being Rs 5000.

“We had 80 bee boxes this year standing at Udhampur but due to strict lockdown we were unable to reach there during the time of honey extracting,” informs Singh.

When they reached Udhampur in the first week of May, the nectar flow season had already passed. “We lost 3 crops of honey there which is estimated to amount more than 1400 Kg,” adds the apiarist.

Unable to reach the farm during the swarming season, Singh lost about 30-40 swarms. Not only this, he also lost about 25-30 honey bee boxes on the way during migration back to Doda.

Sanitizer may have helped humans to fight coronavirus but for honey bees, sanitizer has proved to be a bane.

According to Singh, one of his vehicles carrying live boxes with honey bee was sprayed with sanitizer that proved catastrophic for the bees because of which they lost 25 live bee boxes completely and a drop in average strength of bees from 9-10 frame to 6-7 frame.

“Lockdown has broken the backbone of the beekeeping industry,” says the helpless apiarist.

Hope in Despair

While many beekeepers are quite pessimistic about the lockdown, Majid Naqshbandi, a beekeeper from Srinagar feels that many people have started eating honey to increase their immunity which in turn will increase honey trade in the valley.

“The only problem is that the market is closed,” says Naqshbandi, adding, “once the market opens honey trade will prosper.”

Naqshbandi migrated his bee boxes from Nishat Garden to Verinag in May due to the unavailability of nectar and pollen for the bees.

“The process was tiresome but I had to comply with all the formalities for smooth migration,” says the beekeeper. “Besides these are testing times for all of us. I believe they won’t last long.”

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