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By Pratim Roy
Apiculture in India is diverse. From commercial beekeepers in Himachal Pradesh to local honey collectors in the hills and forests of Tamil Nadu to migratory beekeepers of Kanyakumari - they all practise some form of beekeeping. Tools, techniques and associated traditions in honey bee rearing vary from region to region.
There are several honey bee species which are exploited by communities. Given below is a brief description of honey bees across the Indian subcontinent.
The giant rock bees are found in large numbers in the Himalayas. In higher reaches, Apis laboriosa is found and in the lower areas of the Terrai (foothills), Apis dorsata is commonly found. Huge quantities of honey and bees wax are sold to wholesalers from towns in this region.
In the central parts of the country honey yields ore substantial from Apis dorsata, primarily due to good forest patches in and around sanctuaries & protected areas. Apis dorsata collectors are mainly tribals. Honey for health and Ayurvedic medicines has been a traditional industry in this region.
The mangrove forests of the Sunderbans are an excellent habitat for Apis dorsata. The entire southern region is rich in Apis dorsata populations - contributing to a Iarge share of the total Indian honey market. In Andhra Pradesh, farmers and honey hunters in the hills of the Eastern Ghats collect honey. Significant quantity of honey is passed on to traders. Intricate technologies and practices have been going on since a long time. Honey hunting is done on rocks and trees. Any accurate estimates of the number of honey collectors is not available.
An interesting parallel can be drawn with North - South beekeeping. At both ends there are large beekeepers, practising migratory beekeeping - one with Apis mellifera the other with Apis cerona. Both these sectors have developed strong beekeeping cottage industries and today have power to influence local authorities in areas of pollination policy and honey production.
"Honey production in India is only about 27,000 tonnes a year and a major portion of this is obtained from Apis dorsata though the share of apiary honey is increasing every year. At present, it is estimated that about 9,000 tonnes of honey is produced from six hundred thousand colonies. Only about 20-25% of the bee flora is being exploited at present. " (Mishra, R.C, The Hindu Survey of Indian Agriculture, 1999).
Importance of Diversity in Apiculture
Rural beekeeping has a role to play as not all can become commercial beekeepers. This rural sector needs to be enhanced by appropriate tools, support systems and bring them to the forefront. It is this informal sector which is providing up to 70% of the honey & bees wax market in India. Apiculture needs to retain its diverse characteristics - better and more imaginative systems need to be designed for standardization, quality control and marketing. Apiculture is an area with significant backward linkages and potential for a very high value high volume market.