Indian honey bees need some love

Every yr in August, the Kaas plateau (close to Satara in Maharashtra) explodes into color, with over 150 species of flowers blooming. As the vacationers descend, so do a whole bunch of tiny guests. The ‘buzz’ is loud, as all 4 of India’s indigenous honey bees — the Apis Cerana Indica, Apis Dorsata, Apis Florea and Trigona (stingless bee) — get to work amassing nectar and pollen. “Every few weeks, the colours change as new flowers bloom, but the pollinators remain the same,” says Vinita Gowda, assistant professor of Biological Sciences at IISER (Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research) Bhopal, who research these industrious foragers as a part of her analysis into pollination and plant biology. What she will be able to’t perceive, nevertheless, is why, just some kilometres away, within the villages round Kaas, farmers ignore their small winged neighbours and, as an alternative, rear a international bee, the Apis Mellifera (European honey bee). “I can’t believe the local bees won’t pollinate their farms [or produce honey],” she exclaims.

A bee hive at meals journalist Vikram Doctor’s dwelling

Honey entice

The story of the Indian honey bee, because it seems, is sophisticated. In 1976, when the primary National Commission on Agriculture report got here out, they got their due. “A road map for beekeeping was laid out as an agricultural input [external sources that aid farming, such as fertiliser] because pollination is 40 times more important than honey. But with the focus shifting to large holder agriculture, these plans remained on paper,” says Sujana Krishnamoorthy, Executive Director of Under The Mango Tree (UTMT), a non-profit organisation that trains small farmers in beekeeping.

Attention was as soon as once more diverted from native bees when subsequent governments started to focus on simply honey. India started to import the high-yield Mellifera in 1983, when beekeeping as a cottage business was introduced. In the final decade or so, honey manufacturing has reportedly grown by 200%, aided by initiatives just like the Honey Mission — launched in 2017, in step with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s name for a Sweet Revolution.

Indian honey bees need some love

The Khadi and Village Industries Commission is among the key drivers of this — offering primary coaching, 10 bee colonies and power kits to farmers — to carry up India’s world rating in honey manufacturing (at the moment eighth, with 64.9 thousand tonnes). This has yielded outcomes: final yr, the honey market was price roughly ₹1,730 crore, in keeping with market analysis firm IMARC, and is estimated to double within the subsequent 5 years. India additionally exported 61,333 metric tonnes in 2019.

‘Bees can’t scent anymore’

  • India has near 800 bee species, however we hardly have any knowledge on them. “Over 95% of research on bees is on the Mellifera,” says Axel Brockmann, who heads the Honey Bee Lab on the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bengaluru. “In India, when people talk about bee decline, they are talking about the Mellifera. But is there a decline in the indigenous bees? We don’t know. There has been no continuous, long-term research on our bees.” This is unhealthy information as a result of, with out such info, we will’t maintain observe of how the completely different communities are faring, how they affect the eco-system, and so forth. The solely consensus: shedding them will threaten meals safety and revenue. Over a decade in the past, Parthiba Basu, Director, Centre for Pollination Studies, had assessed the financial worth of pollination loss on six-seven crop productions — the annual loss might be round ₹5,400 crore. And that is solely set to develop.
  • The use of pesticides is among the largest risks to bees. “Neonicotinoids, or neonics, has been outlawed by the European Union and a number of countries — purely because these were found to be harmful to the bee — but it is making a backdoor entry into India. Punjab is the only state that has banned it,” says Krishnamoorthy. When Basu started wanting into the affect of pesticides on the Cerana and Dorsata, he discovered that the bees have been ageing quicker due to oxidative stress. “They are also losing their ability to distinguish colour, smell and retain smell memory [pesticides create an aberration in the calcium channel in the brain, stopping memory formation].” So we’re at a tipping level. “There is a need for sensitisation within policy makers, and for cross learning between the scientific community and agricultural establishments.” Conservation is the need of the hour. Besides banning neonics, we should additionally restore pure vegetation in intensive agricultural areas also can carry again the bees. “We are suggesting that local governments take a proactive stand in re-vegetating parts of common areas in villages and encourage farmers to have inter rows in their fields or plant pollinator-attracting vegetation on the bunds,” says Basu.

A sticky downside

However, making a case for the Mellifera is very like revisiting the jersey cow vs the Indian cow debate. Yes, the European honey bee can produce wherever between 20 kg and 40 kg of honey per colony per yr, as in comparison with the Cerana’s low output of seven kg to 10 kg, but it surely has its drawbacks. It requires loads of upkeep, carries pathogens, and is simply suited to a couple areas in India (it might probably’t tolerate excessive temperatures or rain). “These bees require a lot of flora, so monoculture farming is preferred. They are good for commercial apiculture, which practises migratory beekeeping — where 700-800 boxes are moved from place to place. In India, typically, their journey would start in the litchi orchards of Muzaffarpur, then move to the mustard fields in western Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, before going to the apple groves in Himachal and Jammu and Kashmir,” explains Krishnamoorthy. “But the reality is that 86% of our farming community is made up of small farmers; the Mellifera is not the bee for them. We’ve seen countless examples where the government has brought in boxes and, within two months, these bees abscond because there isn’t enough flora for them.”

Interactions with organisations such because the National Bee Board haven’t helped as a result of “they don’t think working with indigenous bees is a good proposition”. “The government is looking at numbers and scale. But which farmer can spend ₹3 lakh to buy 50 boxes [a bee box costs ₹3,500 and the Mellifera costs another ₹3,000]. Instead, give a small farmer ₹2,000 of support for boxes [UTMT’s cost ₹1,000] and training to transfer local bees from the wild and rear them, and you give them a low-cost way of adding to their yields through pollination and produce honey,” she provides.

Sweetening the deal

Moving past the “productivist agenda” to focus on the bees’ most vital perform — sustaining ecological stability and serving to agriculture via cross-pollination — is how we will carry the dialog again to our native foragers. “Indigenous bees have evolved in this region, they know the plants, the terrain, and are better able to adapt to the changes in the environment,” says Gowda, including how, within the final couple of years, “many Mellifera colonies have absconded [reacting to the heat and rains]. But native bees don’t do this as much”.

Indian honey bees need some love

App within the making

  • Brockmann, who has been monitoring Dorsata bees in Bengaluru for the final couple of years (in a pilot research in a gated neighborhood — researching migratory patterns, and many others), can also be engaged on an app. “It will be a citizen science project. We need people who are interested in bees to download it because we want them to observe and monitor them — revisit the sites once a month, take a photo and count the colonies,” he says, including that they’re testing the primary model now and can, hopefully, roll it out in a couple of months’ time.

India is a hotspot for bees [see ‘Rare sightings’ field]. And phenomena like colony collapse dysfunction — the place employee bees disappear, forsaking empty hives — isn’t as prevalent right here (although knowledge remains to be being gathered). Beekeeping, if employed neatly, cannot solely present extra revenue for small farmers but in addition higher their yields. A couple of research have proven that farmers who use native bees had higher fruit units (the method through which flowers grow to be fruit).

UTMT has been making inroads in popularising the Cerana and Trigona during the last decade. Initiatives that have been as soon as met with scorn and disbelief — farmers thought they have been loopy “because bees lived in forests and not boxes” — have now unfold throughout Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, the place they work with 67,000 farmers. “To date, we have the largest eco-system [with an institution] of Cerana beekeepers — around 1,000, with over 3,000 bee boxes,” says Krishnamoorthy, including that the current HCL Foundation Grant of ₹5 crore that they acquired will likely be used to unfold their work into newer districts.

Manilal Waghera from Dharampur, Gujarat, is a working example. He remembers days when the villages extracted honey by squeezing hives (thus killing bees) and utilizing the combs to make nutritious bhaji. Now a grasp coach, with 11 bee containers of his personal, he teaches others tips on how to safely switch wild bees into containers and preserve them. “Ever since we started, 99% of the villagers have reported much better yields,” he says. His good friend, and fellow beekeeper, Madhu Bhoya agrees, including that his Trigona bees have helped his mango orchards thrive.

A farmer setting up an Apis Cerana Indica bee box

A farmer establishing an Apis Cerana Indica bee field

Rare sightings

  • Besides the 4 principal honey bees, India has two indigenous species that aren’t seen too typically. The Apis laboriosa, or the Himalayan large honey bee, is primarily discovered within the higher reaches of Uttarakhand. Its pink honey (from flowers discovered at excessive altitudes) is claimed to have a psychotropic impact, and honey hunters (particularly the Kulung of Nepal) scale vertical cliffs to get this ‘mad honey’. The different selection is the uncommon Apis andreniformis, or black dwarf honey bee, that’s principally discovered within the forests within the Northeast states.

The official transfer

The authorities is slowly taking word, too. Though the ratio remains to be 80:20 in favour of the Mellifera, they’re taking a look at pollination as an equally vital a part of beekeeping. “In our Mission for Integrated Development of Horticulture [a Centre-sponsored scheme], we have a component for beekeeping as a pollination support system. Several national-level agencies, including the National Bee Board, are working towards implementing this,” says BNS Murthy, Horticulture Commissioner of India, including, “Going forward, we must balance both Cerana and Mellifera; we need to understand their individual advantages and for this we are doing research. Under the Indian Council of Agriculture Research, we have an all-India coordinated research project on honey bees, spread across over 20 centres. Also, under our new National Beekeeping and Honey Mission, we are focussing on production, processing and research.”

The information is welcome, since native bee populations are coming beneath risk — due to extreme land clearing and use of pesticides. In Netrang taluka in Gujarat, a UTMT crew that went to survey the world for bees discovered no indigenous species left. “Reintroduction of bees is tough, so we are concentrating on conservation, spreading awareness about unsustainable honey hunting practises to the bees’ impact on farming,” says Krishnamoorthy. “If we don’t protect our bees now, then in 10 years’ time we might have to buy them through mail order, like the US does.”

“There are over 20,000 bee species in the world. Of these, around 200 are social [live in colonies] and 12 are honey bees. But the world is only talking about one honey bee, the Apis Mellifera! In India, we should not even be discussing it” Axel Brockmann, NCBS

“Studying the behaviour of bees is important. [Did you know] that the Cerana doesn’t travel more than 700 m, or that if there is paddy field in the way, they are unwilling to cross it? All these is important in terms of conservation of bees and addressing pollination as an ecosystem service” Hema Somanathan, IISER Thiruvananthapuram, group leader of Bee Lab

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