Early on a rain-soaked Sunday morning, Anika Pandey walks into a dense, lush-green forest in Koinpur to inspect her beehives. A few elderly villagers accompany the 24-year-old woman, who has been teaching them beekeeping for the past one year. Together, they collect honey from green bee boxes that Pandey has placed throughout the forest in this village of Odisha’s Gajapati district. For the past few months, honey has been supplementing the income of these villagers, mostly paddy growers.
Delhi-based Pandey, who started beekeeping as a small experiment in October last year, has converted it into a sustainable model of alternative livelihood for 40 farmers of Koinpur. “The idea is not to replace their primary source of livelihood, which is agriculture, but to complement it with an additional source of income that they can use to educate a child or compensate a year of bad rains,” says the alumna of Shri Ram College of Commerce, Delhi.
After her graduation in 2014, Pandey joined leading global investment banking firm Goldman Sachs, where she got the opportunity to volunteer for Magic Bus Foundation in Bengaluru. As a volunteer, she taught life skills through sports to 2,000 poor children and interacted with their parents at regular intervals. “This is when I realised that these people are very enterprising but lack resources,” says Anika, who quit Goldman Sachs after two years and joined an NGO Gram Vikas in Odisha to work with tribal farmers in 2016. She came to Koinpur the same year. The village, which has over 70 species of trees and shallow water streams, is geographically suitable for beekeeping throughout the year. Besides, honey, among all other non-timber forest produce, has a good commercial value.
The Indian honey bee, Apis Cerena Indica, she says, is an endangered species and only beekeeping can preserve them. Earlier, when Koinpur farmers spotted a bee colony, they would kill the bees and squeeze the comb to extract honey for self-consumption, or selling it for small price.
Anika, who learnt nuances of the trade from the local Krishi Vigyan Kendra, says like every venture, her project faced initial hiccups. Patriarchy was the biggest hurdle she faced in the male-dominated village. “When I came here, I felt people needed help but they were not ready to accept it because they were not used to an alien, who does not speak their language, woman leading them,” she says. After spending some months with them, Anika began her trial with five farmers who were receptive to her ideas.
“Other villagers observed that the five farmers were getting benefitted from the project. And eventually, we formed a group, Jagat Kalyan Honey Product Group,” she says. Now, farmers sell the honey directly to traders at haats without involvement of a middlemen.