In remote villages of the Himalayan Garhwal region of Uttarakhand, more than four thousand small and marginal farmers have taken up beekeeping on a commercial scale through the Farmer Producer Organization (FPO), Devbhumi Natural Products Producer Company Limited (DNPPCL). This FPO has lent loans to its farmer members for taking up beekeeping and honey production as a source of livelihood. It has also used grant assistance for training, capacity building and market promotion of the locally processed honey. Both the loan and grant assistance flow from the innovative joint venture of National Bank of Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) and Germany based development bank Deutsche Gesellschaft. This joint venture extends need based assistance to FPOs for promoting natural resource-based livelihoods and enterprises.
The FPO approach in Uttarakhand has accrued several impacts at the last mile for beekeeping and honey production. There has been a noticeable improvement in pollination through the promotion of appropriate tree species. This has, in turn, strengthened the protection of biodiversity conservation for bees in Districts of Chamoli, Rudra Prayag, Tehri Garhwal and Uttarkashi. The project has also encouraged private entrepreneurship amongst youth to support breeding centres and carpentry for bee box manufacturing etc.
The Doubling Farmers Income Committee (DFI) Report 2018 observes that human interface in breeding, rearing and managing of bees is an agro-based activity that can be undertaken to supplement the income of farmers. Honeybee pollination is essential for crops such as mustard, sunflower, oilseeds, pulses. It also raises yield and increases the production of cross-pollinated crops such as cabbages, cauliflower, carrots etc. It is also an enabler for a diversified range of high-value beehive products e.g., honey, beeswax, bee pollen, propolis, royal jelly, bee venom etc. The DFI Report further adds, that beekeeping has the potential to generate employment for landless farmers, hill dwellers, tribals and that the net income from hundred bee colonies varies from INR 3,00,000- to INR 5,00,000/- annually.
In 2019-20 the number of bee colonies maintained by approximately two lakh beekeepers in India was 36 lakhs with a honey production of 120 thousand metric tonnes. In the same year, the volume of export of honey stood at approximately 60 thousand metric tonnes. Interestingly, the states of Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Punjab and Bihar account for more than fifty per cent of the total honey production in the country. Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana also produce considerable quantities.
There are multiple ministries and departments at the national level associated with various aspects of beekeeping, e.g., research, development, capacity building, standards, export and project implementation. Primarily, the National Bee Board (NBB) under the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare has been mandated with the role of development of scientific beekeeping across the country through setting up of integrated beekeeping development centres as well as training and capacity building of beekeepers. To further give impetus to such a focus, an Rs.500 crore National Beekeeping and Honey Mission was announced under the 2020 Atma Nirbhar Bharat Krishi Package too.
Experts have pointed out that a few issues need to be addressed to strengthen beekeeping and honey production and resultantly the promotion and adoption of beekeeping amongst small and marginal farmers. First, on account of the country’s immense bio-diversity, there is tremendous potential for the development of different kinds of honey specific to a particular region and also crop. Hence, the need to support honey hubs or clusters e.g., Apple honey (Jammu & Kashmir, Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh), Litchi honey (Bihar), Mustard honey (Rajasthan), Coconut honey (Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Naidu and organic honey (Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Sikkim), multi-floral honey (Maharashtra), coriander honey (Madhya Pradesh) etc. Second, accurate digital database of registered beekeepers and their practices has to be maintained for traceability. Third, to monitor prescribed standards, quality control facilities for honey through a network of additional regional and district level laboratories have to be planned and set up. Fourth, capacity building and awareness training have to be enhanced with a sustained focus on migratory beekeeping induced by constant floral changes in agro-climatic zones. Fifth, marketing and branding of bee products have to incentivized with focus on post-harvest management to avoid excessive stocking. And lastly, there is a need to focus on R&D for raising quality nucleus stock, disease resistance and uniformity of bee management methods in different parts of the country.
The launch of a dedicated Central Sector Scheme for formation and promotion of 10,000 FPOs across the country by the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare, Government of India is extremely relevant in the context of the above-delineated issues to usher the ‘Sweet Revolution”. The scheme provides support to FPOs up to five years and has certain distinctive features. First, it makes a produce cluster area essential for FPO formation. Second, it provides for setting up special-purpose Cluster-Based Business Organizations to handhold FPOs. Such entities will assist the implementation agencies in entry point activities, farmer mobilization, the conduct of feasibility, baseline surveys and most importantly in preparation of core business plans for medium- and long-term development. Third, reimbursement of funds will also be available to value chain processing and export entities that are supporting FPOs through cluster approaches. Fourth, there is the availability of equity grants and credit guarantee cover for the accelerated flow of institutional credit to FPOs.
In fact, in the above backdrop, NBB has a very critical role to play in a mission mode. It had to be the vital connecting link between synchronizing the efforts of multiple national, State, implementing agencies at New Delhi and FPO formation in specific honey clusters/hubs/corridors at the last mile to manage value chain inputs, equipment and marketing etc.
The National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation (NAFED) has recently spearheaded setting up of five honey producing FPOs in East Champaran (Bihar), Morena (Madhya Pradesh), Bharatpur (Rajasthan) and Sundarbans (West Bengal). NAFED will act as an intermediary to fill gaps in the beekeeping and honey production supply chain e.g., proper storage, processing and tying its funding instruments including insurance. More importantly, approximately four to five thousand honey collecting farmers would be directly benefited through these collectives that would help them in branding and collective marketing of honey, explore overseas markets and hence provide small and marginal farmers with remunerative prices. As has been rightly pointed out by the Report of the Beekeeping Development Committee headed by Dr Bibek Debroy that such an approach, “will reduce the role of middlemen and also reduce the gap between the price at the point of collection from the beekeeper and the market price that is wide at present”.
(The writer is an Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare, Government of India. Views expressed are personal, and do not necessarily reflect those of Outlook Magazine)