Not just honey, bees can make you money too; find out how

Indian and European bees are the most sought after while stingless bees are slowly catching our attention for its medicinal properties.

Published: 28th October 2019 05:25 PM  |   Last Updated: 29th October 2019 02:53 PM   |  A+A-

honey, honeybee

(Photo | Meghana Sastry, EPS)

Express News Service

Your favourite mango will definitely become dearer if not extinct, if we don't act now. Pollinators, which include bees, need a major protection boost.

There are 2,00,000 pollinators of which honeybees are the most sought after, why?

There’s a popular saying ‘as busy as a bee’. That term comes from the fact that honey bees are the only species who identify a flower and make multiple visits to the same flower until they get all the nectar and pollen out of it. They are the best pollinators and work in the most methodical fashion. From identifying to communicating and dividing work. Their social structure is fascinating and one that we can learn a lot from. There are 20,000 types of bee species of which the ones mentioned below are the most popular types in India. Indian and European bees are the most sought after while stingless bees are slowly catching our attention for its medicinal properties.

Common Name Scientific Name Natural Nesting Site Honey Yield (KG)
Indian Bees Apis Cerena Cavity, Termite Mounds, Tree Hollow etc. 8-10
European Bees Apis Mellifera Cavity 25-30
Rock Bees Apis Dorsata Tree Branches, Buildings etc 30-35
Dwarf Bees Apis Florea Twig in a bush <1
Himalayan Rock Bees Apis Laboriosa Underside of rock cliffs 40-45
Indian Stingless Bees/Dammer Bees Tetragonula Iridipennis Cavities, Hollows in tree trunks and walls <500 grams

There’s been a lot of buzz about bees going extinct and people have been trying to find a way around it.

Here is a story from beekeepers who have found it very lucrative to harvest them.

There are multiple beekeepers like Apoorva - the bee man of India and organisations like the University of Agricultural Sciences in GKVK, Bangalore who conduct workshops and help people understand the importance of bees, train them on beekeeping and provide them with bee boxes.

Apoorva visits his bee farm in Bidadi regularly to check the health of the bees. He is a mechanical engineer but a beekeeper by profession. He found his passion for bees even before he graduated and took it up soon after. He’s been working on bees for over 10 years and works closely with farmers across the country. He travels, meets farmers, trains them, gives them bee boxes, follows up with them on the progress and reviews the health of the bees regularly. He also helps them sell their produce. While Apoorva works with a lot of people across the country, this is a story close to home where he’s been working with flood victims in Coorg.

He is involved in multiple activities such as honey production, bee breeding, manufacturing beekeeping equipment, selling honey and beehive by-products, mainly wax. His company's annual turnover is over 2 crores. He has both Indian and Italian bees.

He initially collected bees from hives and then started breeding them in his apiary during the natural division season of bees. He also buys colonies from farmers when they multiply. This bee farm is near a cornfield which is rich in pollen. It is important to understand your demography he says. Having bee flora next to an apiary is very beneficial to harvest more honey and keep bees in good health. He harvests Indian bees in forests and hilly regions and also promotes only Indian bees to farmers as it’s easier since most of them cannot handle migratory beekeeping.

European bees which in India are Italian bees requires 4-7 migrations in a year for which, he travels around 1,200 kms pollinating thousands of acres in North Karnataka mainly Sunflowers, Til, Niger, Coconuts, Arecanuts, Banana, Avacado, Litchi and more. Honey yielding fields for Italian bees are Sunflowers, Eucalyptus, Til and Niger. He has more than 200 colonies now and will split them to make about 800 during the breeding season. A farmer keeps anywhere between 4-25 boxes. He needs about 3 boxes per acre and has to distance each colony by at least 10 feet.

Bee Harvesting has helped Coorg flood victims make a livelihood

Vijay Panduranga talks about the effects of the flood and the rehabilitation work in Coorg.

After the floods in 2018 that hit Coorg, a lot of farmers lost their land in turn livelihood and haven’t received much relief from the government. There were rescue operations but then not much is being done on the rehabilitation front.

With paltry compensation from the govt. Coorg flood victims are finding solace in the new beekeeping venture. Nectar flow is an initiative/program started by a few local people, spearheaded by Retd. Brigadier Devaiah to help provide a steady income to people interested in beekeeping. People have seen returns in the 1st few months. They say that the money that comes in lets them breathe. While beekeeping in an age-old tradition in Coorg, the methods are ancient. Devaiah was on the lookout for someone with a scientific approach to help them and that’s when he found Apoorva and sought help. Apoorva readily agreed and continues to work closely with the farmers. He has helped the farmers understand the species better, eventually getting them better yields. At Coorg, each farmer makes a minimum of 5 kgs of honey per year and each box sells at Rs. 600/- per kg. They also make money by selling colonies at Rs. 1,500/- per colony. Farmers produce about 2-3 kgs of beeswax per year which is approximately Rs. 350/ kg

Farmers from the North East, Chhattisgarh, Coorg and other parts of India find it difficult to sell the honey and wax that they produce. Apoorva helps them by buying the whole lot from them, filters them further if there’s moisture and sells them as and when he gets enquires. Honey is labeled as per the flowering season such as litchi, cardamom, clover, mustard, chilli, etc., the honey tastes different too.

The by-products such as beeswax, royal jelly and bees venom are other sources of income and, used in pharmaceuticals and beauty products.

The below-mentioned statistics are only an example of how bee pollination increases the yield anywhere between15% – 80%. These are scientifically proven numbers in ideal conditions (these are underestimated values).

Estimated global economic value of pollination is 217 billion USD in 2005

Crop       Increase in yield per acre (%) Increase in yield per acre Income generation by pollination per acre
Coffee 15% 5 Bags 15,000/-
Aracanut   25% 2 Quintals 64,000/-
Coconut  20% 3,000 nuts 36,000/-
Banana 20% 5 Quintals 10,000/-
Watermelon   80% 4 Tonnes 20,000/-

Farmers tell us their personal stories of how beekeeping has helped increase their yield with pollination in crops such as coffee, fruits and spices. They also make a good livelihood but extracting honey and wax. What they make is pure and unadulterated making the quality far more superior than the ones available off the shelves at supermarkets.

This is what a bee box looks like. This is one bee colony. They come on top to feed. There are multiple wooden frames inside quoted with wax, which help them construct combs.

Every bee box has an opening at the bottom which allows the bees to move in and out of it, to go out and collect nectar and pollen. Some farmers who have these bee boxes are also given out on rent for pollination to seed producers or other farmers who are in need of pollination.

Naganna (Saachi) Kalappa lives 3 kms away from the main Madhapur town in Somwarpet Taluk. He has been harvesting bees for 18-20 years. Bees were available in abundance then as the ecology was healthy and rich, and filled with plants that the bees needed to survive. However, the species has seen a massive decline in numbers as the human population has been increasing and trees are being cut down for personal benefits such as planting silver oak trees as it yields timber and in a short span of time. Since the decline in numbers, they now need to procure boxes and up their skills and knowledge. After adopting this scientific method, he has benefited as his crops are multiplying. He is making enough money to take care of the needs of his family. He also says I request people to stop destroying forests and help in sustaining them and grow trees that are required for agriculture instead of timber to improve the ecology.

Thammaiah CB (Dolly) lives 7 kilometers away from the main Madhapur town in Somwarpet taluk in the Coorg district. This part of Coorg witnessed the worst of nature’s fury in 2018. While he has been harvesting Indian Apis Cerena Bees in boxes he also harvests stingless bees in pots. The quantity of honey is way lesser than what is produced by other bees however, the quality is far more superior as it has a lot of medicinal properties and is sold at a much higher rate.

Thammaiah’s mother tends to her garden every day. She says it isn’t enough if you just harvest bees and have a coffee estate, it is very important to understand what kind of flowers and fruits attract them and cultivate them in your garden. This helps in increasing pollination and nectar production.

Fruit especially those with seeds are good pollinators.

Plants that one should cultivate to yield better results

Nectar: Plants such as Avocado, Litchi, Hibiscus etc.

Pollination: Plants such as Sunflower, Sesame, Mustard, Coriander, Niger, Coconut and more (bees are attracted to vibrant colours such as yellow and blue)

She also makes beeswax at home which is another income generator. She says that it is not a very laborious process and demonstrates. You first break the comb into a utensil with enough water and let it boil.

You let it boil until it reaches the required consistency.

You then squeeze out all the excess water and use the residue to make wax cakes.

This is the final product.

Apoorva pays regular visits to all the farmers across the country and conducts a health check.

It is very important to taste it as well. Every house he goes to gives him honey to taste. He jokes and says I am glad I don’t have diabetes. If I did, for the amount of honey I consume, I would be in a lot of trouble.

Bose Mandanna is the fourth generation coffee grower. He moved back to Coorg 53 years ago after completing a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Economics. He talks of how he has seen farming change in the years to come. Back in the day farming was done in a very environmentally friendly way. Over a period of time, when they found pests taking over the plantation, they used some chemicals to deal with the pest issue. However, they soon realised that they were not only harming humans but also the bees and other pollinators in the environment. These chemicals known as weed killers have cancer-causing properties. On realising this, they decided to go back to organic farming. However, a lot of farmers have been affected by this chemical especially in Punjab as they are one of the largest agriculturists, and the Punjab mail is popularly called the cancer express as a lot of them are coming to Bombay for treatment. Also to note the groundwater gets affected by these chemicals. People are saying that there are bee-friendly pesticides available. He jokes and says “there are all chemicals and they cannot be friendly, they might not kill you but make you unconscious”. Please avoid chemicals and use bio controlled agents.

White Stem Borer Problem: These pests are known to attack the coffee plants and wreak havock hence
they wrap the plants with white cloths to avoid this menace. There is a mild chemical in it but it only
touches the trunk of the plant and does not reach the coffee flower thereby not harming humans or

May 20th is International Bees Day. UAS in GKVK conducted a 2 day class for people interested in beekeeping. Urban beekeeping is also becoming popular as people from the cities have started showing

The staff showed them how to identify and dig out for a beehive as they can build hives anywhere. This
has to be done with caution so as to not break the hive.

You then mildly sedate the bees with some smoke by burning dry cotton cloth and get the comb out

Once you get the comb out, you tie them tightly to a frame but not so tight that they break.

Students learn to tie the comb to the frame.

While they learn to make honey, a student observes the comb.

Santosh from the faculty shows the class how to peel the comb before you can put it into a vessel to churn honey. The peeling has to be very fine.

These are the machines in which you put the combs in to extract honey. These machines are also made by Apoorva and sold to the farmers. There is a particular way the combs have to be kept and then manually churned.

A small community of farmers can only do so much, the government needs to step up and help take this initiative forward, make this bigger and reach more people.

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